On the eve of his son's 13th birthday, Tommy (David Duchovny) decides to reassess his own childhood as a gift to his boy, taking him back to the year 1973, when he was turning the same age. A young man, Tommy (Anton Yelchin, "Hearts in Atlantis") and his mentally challenged friend Pappas (Robin Williams) ruled the New York streets where they lived. However, their time of enthusiasm and mischief draws to a close when Tommy's widowed mother (Tea Leoni) becomes suicidal and his first love (Zelda Williams) threatens to disrupt his tight relationship with Pappas. Hope comes to Tommy in the form of a female convict (Erykah Badu) at the local detention center, who offers Tommy advice on his unmanageable life.
David Duchovny as an actor? A unique and dryly comic performer whose sharp wit livens up most movies he appears in. Duchovny as a writer/director? An embarrassment. "House of D" (IMDb listing) marks the directorial debut for the veteran actor, and it shows undeniably that Duchovny should be in front of the camera rather than behind it.
While it is an utter mess of a motion picture, "House of D" is not a mean-spirited creation. Supposedly semi-autobiographical, the film strolls down the same coming-of-age boyhood pathway taken by many movies. Yet, Duchovny's creation is a very odd one indeed. While it includes the expected sweetness and tragedy, Duchovny's screenplay veers wildly into weird sexual situations (Pappas gets an erection after watching a horror film), threadbare narrative devices (found in the women's detention center subplot), and a bookending device with the adult Tommy that relies on breathlessly long voiceover stretches that only exacerbate the fragile grasp on quality that "House" holds.
The glaring problem with "House" is that Duchovny isn't able to translate his own words to the screen with grace. For example, upon learning of his mother's hospitalization, Tommy scoops up the cigarette butts from the toilet that his mother recently left behind, and wraps them gently in paper, somberly treasuring the last remnants of his only living parent. On paper, this would probably kick the reader in the gut with its tender power and sadness. In the film, however, the scene doesn't lure that type of emotion, even going so far as to come off a little gross. Duchovny fills "House" with many moments like this, but they cannot overcome his stilted direction. Ultimately, the sentiment dies in front of a rudely snickering audience.
Duchovny's camerawork also hurts his actors. Even by low-budget standards, "House" is inexplicably murky and Duchovny's poor shot choices hang his talent out to dry. Young actor Yelchin receives the worst treatment, for his affected but charming performance is ruined in its final moments by the director's inability to understand how to edit or cover a scene properly. What should be a sequence of an emotional wellspring shooting out of Tommy as he arrives at the end of his options becomes an awkward, grimace-inducing scene because Duchovny can't find a respectful and effective angle to work with. He persists with the moment, even though it's fallen to pieces.
"House of D" is a heartfelt production, and a tough one to kick around, but to recommend it on intentions alone would be making many innocent people suffer.
Filmfodder Grade: C-