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House of D Reviews

Set primarily in Greenwich Village in the '70s, actor David Duchovny's feature writing/directing debut is a house divided against itself. It delivers some eloquent glimpses of an offbeat adolescence, in large part through Anton Yelchin's performance as 13-year-old Tommy Warshaw, the sensitive, perpetually worried son of a fragile single mother (Tea Leoni, Duchovny's wife) hanging on by her cigarettes and tranquilizers. But the war between highly specific coming-of-age angst and icky-sticky overcoming-adversity cliches eventually brings the whole thing down. The film opens as expatriate American artist Tom Warshaw (Duchovny) reconsiders his own coming of age on the occasion of his son's (Harold Cartier) 13th birthday. He pours out the story to his estranged French wife (Magali Amadei) from the pavement below her window, just as he once poured out his woes to an unseen inmate in Manhattan's Women's House of Detention, the titular House of D. In the summer of 1973, scholarship student Tommy attended Catholic school and lived with his recently widowed mother in a gloomy West Village apartment, catering to her mercurial mood swings with unnerving tenderness. His best friend, Pappass (Robin Williams), is a middle-aged janitor with the mind of an 11-year-old; after school they deliver meat for a local butcher, go to R-rated movies and make up naughty jokes. They're saving up to buy a bicycle, and pool their money in a tin box they hide from Pappass' alcoholic father in the shadow of the House of D, where prisoners talk through the barred windows to friends and passers-by below. Tommy, who's nursing a crush on rich girl Melissa (Zelda Williams, Robin Williams' daughter), is so bereft of adult guidance that he happily takes advice from earthy, sympathetic inmate Lady Bernadette (Erykah Badu), but his unseen mentor's counsel has unintentionally disastrous repercussions. Duchovny grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side in the '70s, and evokes a vivid sense of time and place; he also elicits generally good performances from most of his cast. Even Williams is relatively subdued, if unable to resist a few too many bittersweet bits of man-child business. But Duchovny's assured direction is repeatedly tripped up by his awkward script. He can shape a scene, but when it's time to move the story forward he reaches for generic tricks from the big book of plot devices, and the framing story trivializes the main narrative by turning it into grist for the triumph of the human spirit mill.