Life as a House: Grown-Up Drama Dances About Architecture
Decidedly unsensational and appealingly grown-up, Chuck Workman's autumnal character study may be the most sagacious cinematic dancing ever done about architecture. Not that there's much competition aside from King Vidor's bizarro movie version of The Fountainhead, which is explicitly cross-sectioned by Workman as ironic punctuation. The inestimable Philip Baker Hall stars as Harry Mayfield, a weathered, crotchety, modernist architectural artiste fallen on teaching and bitterness after a tempestuous life and half-realized career. Talking to himself, barely able to tie his temper into knots, and yet eminently reasonable about practical matters, Mayfield is drawn into the game once more by a monstrously self-absorbed millionairess (Rebecca Staab), who even asks a filmmaker friend (Laura San Giacomo) to document Mayfield's new assignment: finishing his magnum opus, years after his first attempt burned to the ground.
A longtime montage journeyman and documentarian, Workman treats his characters with dignity, allowing their actions and work to speak for themselves. And it's a movie full of work; serious time is spent watching Hall wrestle with his design, construct models, and eventually micromanage construction, and the fallout is a lovely sense of how building houses can be a kind of immortality. Thus, at its heart, A House on a Hill is about time's arrow. It's lamentable that Workman did not trust his material and cast (including a heartbreaking Shirley Knight as Mayfield's ex-wife) enough to resist clabbering up the film with relentless, Hulk-like post-production boxes, moving frames, and ratio rejiggeringwas he afraid we'd be bored? Squint through the humbug, and there's some genuine life going on.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.
More Film News
- Scott Adkins Plays a Badass Actually Named ‘Colt McReady’ In the Effective ‘Close Range’
- Meet the Pole Who Tried to Warn the World About the Holocaust in ‘Karski & the Lords...
- Jane Fonda Faced Down the Seventies and a Killer in Pakula’s Masterful ‘Klute’
- He’ll Get Your Head Shaking: Surveying the Start of Chung Mong-hong’s (Likely) Great...