When it comes to “coming of age” films, it’s a bit like the horror genre in that there seems to be very little that hasn’t been seen before, causing those types of films to feel a little clichéd and overdone. However, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some enjoyable entries in the last several years, including “Boyhood,” “Juno,” and the recently very-well-received “Eighth Grade.” For his feature debut, writer/director Peter Livolsi has opted to give this oft-trod genre a try by adapting Peter Bognanni’s novel “The House of Tomorrow,” which does indeed strike the viewer as being familiar, but which also might just surprise you by the end.
The film centers on a young man by the name of Sebastian (Asa Butterfield), who lives in an architectural curiosity known as “The House of Tomorrow” with his guardian, Josephine (Ellen Burstyn). During one of the daily tours, Josephine has a stroke and is rushed to the hospital, where the odd and sheltered Sebastian strikes up a conversation with Jared (Alex Wolff), who had been touring the house with his father, Alan (Nick Offerman). Sebastian eventually finds himself over at Jared’s house, where Jared offers to teach him about punk music. However, things quickly change over from teaching to the two wanting to form a band and perform at the church talent show. Despite several obstacles (Jared’s heart condition, Sebastian’s commitments, Alan’s rules regarding their rehearsals, etc.), the boys do their best to pursue their newfound passion, but will it be enough to get them their desired spot at the show?
As you can probably tell just from the synopsis, “The House of Tomorrow” doesn’t sound like it would particularly stand out from a group of other films in the coming of age genre, and yet, despite the feeling that you may have already seen this film before, it ends up being a pretty enjoyable romp through the same familiar territory. The film finds its strength in the relationship between the weird, secluded Sebastian and the rebellious, sickly Jared, two seemingly unlikely friends that end up sharing an interest that unexpectedly bonds them.
Sure, the film has a few clichés to it, such as the overly-protective parent/guardian and an outsider discovering new sensations outside of their sheltered existence, but it’s able to overcome them via this unusual friendship, which is brought to life through spot-on performances from Asa Butterfield (“Hugo”) and Alex Wolff (“Hereditary”). Their awkward camaraderie comes off as being quite natural, which only serves to make their relationship that much more believable. Credit must also be given to the rest of the cast, including Nick Offerman, doing excellent work in a more dramatic role than usual, and veteran actress Ellen Burstyn, who is always a delight to see.
You know the film is doing something right when you find yourself rooting for the boys to get the chance to play their music, and you even find yourself willing to forgive when the couple of songs you get to hear from them end up being mostly bad. This is simply a short (85 minutes) and sweet film that hammers home the fairly standard coming of age elements that we’ve seen before, but it does it well enough to the point where you just find yourself going along with it and enjoying the ride. It’s certainly not going to win many points for originality, and it might not be the most memorable film in the genre, but it’s touching, entertaining, and hits just the right notes where it really counts.
“The House of Tomorrow” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The picture is crystal clear throughout the brief 85-minute runtime, beautifully capturing the fascinating architecture of Sebastian’s house. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part, the audio is at a good enough level to hear everything just fine, but at other times, it drops to a level where you have to strain to hear what’s being said. It’s not too much of a hassle, though it is a little strange that it fluctuates like that. Overall, while there is that one small issue with the audio, the film has received pretty good treatment, leaving you with a satisfactory experience.
Audio Commentary with Peter Livolsi and Cast: A so-so, laid back commentary track in which the writer/director and the young cast discuss the making of the film.
Ellen Burstyn In Conversation with Peter Livolsi (36 Minutes): A fascinating talk with the legendary actress in which she discusses meeting Buckminster Fuller and answers questions from the cast.
NYC Premiere Q&A (30 Minutes): An intriguing Q&A from the New York Film Critics Series in which Livolsi and the cast discuss various aspects of the film.
“The House of Tomorrow” may not win many points for originality as far as the coming of age genre is concerned, but it manages to overcome its familiar plot devices through the intriguing relationship at its heart and its remarkable cast. When it comes right to it, it’s simply an enjoyable film that uses the standard genre clichés in an effective manner, resulting in another decent flick to add to the ever-growing category.