Sometimes it’s just fun to watch a bevy of worthy actors take on a simple, so-so screenplay just to see what they can do with it.
Based on a novel by Peter Bognanni and adapted by first-time feature director Peter Livosi, The House of Tomorrow centers on 16-year-old Sebastian (Asa Butterfield), who lives with his grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) in what is essentially a bio-dome, designed by esteemed, real-life architect Buckminster Fuller, of which the pair are the caretakers and tour guides. The Minnesota attraction is one few people actually visit, but when a church youth group (led by a youth pastor played by Nick Offerman, complete with fanny-pack) comes to visit, Sebastian’s life changes forever.
In the group are the pastor’s two teen children—Jared (Alex Wolff, who has a star-making turn in the current Hereditary) and the highly flirtatious Meredith (an unrecognizable but extremely good Maude Apatow)—both of whom have a major impact on Sebastian, who has essentially never left the “house of tomorrow” outside of running errands for himself and his nana. So when the pastor gives Sebastian a half-hearted invite to come visit them, Sebastian shows up on the doorstep soon thereafter, mainly to see more of Meredith. But he ends up becoming friends with Jared, who has recently been the recipient of a heart transplant and very much wants to be in a punk rock band. A little too rebellious for his own good, Jared ends up teaching Sebastian about punk music as well as how to play bass in a band he’s putting together.
There aren’t too many surprises or original ideas in The House of Tomorrow. Jared has a few health scares courtesy of his new ticker, grandma isn’t too thrilled with Sebastian’s adventures outside of the home designed by a man she more than admired, and the band (dubbed The Rash, because, in theory, their music will get under your skin) gears up and writes some new songs for their first gig.
It’s kind of cool that Offerman is in two movies now (including Hearts Beat Loud) in which his fictional offspring is musically inclined, but beyond that the film’s message of breaking free from authority (even if that authority is your very old nana) and escaping a life that seems fated unless you do something about it are fine but not especially inspired.
Still, seeing this gifted group of actors together, making the most of a fairly pedestrian screenplay, is enjoyable enough. For the second time this year, Wolff truly steals the show, especially in the band’s shining, one-song performance near the end of the film, where he pours his entire tortured life into a single, gut-wrenching song. The House of Tomorrow isn’t the strongest drink on the shelf, but it’s enough to get you a little drunk.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
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