If you are expecting to see bug-eyed space monsters or demonic creepy crawlies in David Duchovny's feature directorial and screenwriting debut, House of D, you're in for a bit of a disappointment. Instead, House of D offers us the emotional story of Tommy, played by Anton Yelchin (Hearts in Atlantis), a 13 year old boy who experiences the pleasures and problems of growing up in Greenwich Village, NYC in 1973. House of D has many elements: It's an odd couple buddy picture, a coming of age story, a romance, and a tale about the value of friendship. The film ultimately deals with the effects of change on our lives and our attempts to deal with it, or sometimes even resist these changes. Opening in Paris, the film shows us expatriate Tom Warshaw, played by Duchovny (whose bushy muttonchops do a good job of diminishing the "Fox Mulder" look), caught in the midst of what might be a midlife crisis. He argues with his French wife after he misses his son's birthday bike ride and is generally unhappy. Tom finally ends up sitting with his wife telling her his life story. The amount of screen time Duchovny has is limited, as Tom only bookends the meat of the story, which is a direct flashback of Tommy's childhood. I imagine that Duchovny's shorter amount of screen time allowed him to focus more on directing.
The flashback section begins in Greenwich Village, 1973, shortly before Tommy's birthday. Tommy is a normal boy who goes to Catholic school where he shows off to his classmates by making his French teacher mispronounce words so they sound dirty. He works after classes alongside his friend Pappas, played by Robin Williams, as a delivery service for a neighborhood butcher shop. Pappas is mentally disabled, yet seems to be sharp as a tack sometimes, especially when being witty. Williams delivers a softer performance than one might expect, but the focus on Pappas as a real person instead of a caricature of a mentally disadvantaged individual helps make him endearing to Tommy and the film's audience. As best friends, Tommy and Pappas do everything together. They save the earnings they skim from their delivery tips (the rest of which they deliver daily to Pappas' father, who spends their earnings boozing) in a tin can hidden in a gutter outside of the Women's House of Detention. The historic and infamous building that the film is titled after is a prison for females. It is here that Tommy meets Lady, played brilliantly by singer/actress Erykah Badu (The Cider House Rules). Tommy never sees Lady, who is incarcerated on the third floor of the prison. One day Lady hears Tommy adding to his change can and calls out. Tommy strikes up a dialogue with her that evolves into a friendship and eventually a mentorship. Lady "tells it like it is" when giving Tommy advice on love and life. Badu's sonorous projection and beautiful voice really make these scenes memorable. Some of my favorite moments in the movie are the scenes with the interaction between Badu and Yelchin.
Throughout the film Tommy experiences many different conflicts that push him to his breaking point. He runs away from the Village and makes his way to Paris, where we first encounter him as Tom the family man in the beginning. In recounting his story to his wife, Tom realizes that he has to return to New York and confront the problems that he ran away from. He meets his old friends and finds closure by introducing them to his family.
House of D isn’t a perfect film, but I found myself smiling and feeling good after watching it. Duchovny creates characters that you come to love, even if he doesn’t realize the depth of their potential by exploring their relationships more completely. I couldn't help but like this movie, and I think you may to, especially if you go and see it with good friends or a son or daughter nearing their own coming of age.
Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.
House of D plays on Saturday, April 16 at 7:00pm at the Enzian Theater and Sunday, April 17 at 4:30pm at the Regal Winter Park Village.