Life as a House [2001]

A respectable tearjerker, Life as a House is a welcome throwback to angst-ridden family dramas like Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment. It falls short of those modern classics, but you'll probably still need Kleenex if you appreciate Kevin Kline's underrated dramatic skills. As the title suggests, Kline's project is a broad metaphor for repairing damaged lives from the foundation up. Playing an architect with terminal cancer, he gives an OscarĀ®-caliber performance, reaching out to his estranged, nihilistic son (future Star Wars star Hayden Christensen) and ex-wife (Kristin Scott-Thomas) as he wrecks and rebuilds the Malibu cliff-top home that contained his most painful memories. Director Irwin Winkler's flair with actors helps to minimize lapses in a script (by As Good As It Gets scribe Mark Andrus) that occasionally borders on maudlin. Overall, this is a fine reminder that Hollywood hasn't lost its soul to action and special effects. --Jeff Shannon

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