The House of Tomorrow

Remember in The Space Between Us how a young teen (Asa Butterfield) came to Earth from the space station he was born on, and was a fish out of water, with the deer in headlights look that never left his face? Well, as Sebastian, he’s playing that character again. He lives with his grandmother architect Josephine Prendergast (Ellen Burstyn), and live in an interesting geodesic dome/house she designed. (This is based on the book by Peter Bognanni). Sebastian’s parents died in a plane crash and she’s raising him, and wants to keep him away from the evils of the outside world. Those would include soda, grilled cheese sandwiches, and punk rock.

When a church group visits to take a tour of the “house of tomorrow,” it leads to a friendship with Jared (Alex Wolff). His dad (Nick Offerman) runs the group, and likes to see that his son is making friends with someone that’s smart. He doesn’t seem fond of his son’s punk posters and T-shirts, and the fact that he curses and smokes cigarettes. Most parents would hate their kid smoking, but the fact that he’s just had a heart transplant (the son, not the dad), and is also refusing to take his medication makes the situation a bit worse.

The Offerman casting would be great, if it weren’t for the fact that he is in another indie movie, as a father with a teenager that’s a musician (Hearts Beat Loud, which is still in theatres). Offerman also played a similar character in a movie I loved — Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

The writing/directorial debut from Peter Livolsi is rather contrived and formulaic. It’s also sweet, and puts a smile on your face. The acting is great, and the characters all have chemistry.

I was happy I started warming up to the boys’ friendship, because their first interactions in the hospital didn’t feel the least bit realistic. Sebastian, who we see have a strange interaction earlier with a girl he was giving a tour to, doesn’t even know how to speak conversationally to kids his age. And Jared is a jerk. About the time they start thinking of band names for their group (they went with “The Rash”), it feels like a real friendship.

Of course there’s a love interest. Jared’s sister Meredith (Judd Apatow’s daughter Maude) seems to get around with a lot of the boys in town, but her character is perfectly written. She can be a snotty sister to her brother and make fun of his new friend, but warms up to him when she realizes he has a good heart.

I wish it had better comedic moments in it, and a sharper script. Especially when you’re dealing with a movie that’s a love letter to punk and rebellion.

There’s a scene when Jared lets his friend hear The Germs on his ipad, and it was sweet. It reminded me of Natalie Portman turning Zach Braff onto The Shins in Garden State. I would’ve liked another scene where Sebastian is learning more about punk and getting an appreciation for it.

My wife had a few funny things she said while we watched this. One of them early on was, “Poor Ellen Burstyn. I think she has a stroke in every movie she’s in nowadays.”

And when The Rash write their first song, “I Wanna Follow Your T*ts” (opening lines: That girl sure is cute/I’d like to get her in her birthday suit), the wife leans in and takes a dig at a band I love.

“It sounds like a Violent Femmes song.”

She ended up liking the movie a bit more than I did. Although I do give it extra credit for a soundtrack with the Voivods, Stiff Little Fingers, and a few tunes by The Stranglers.

2 ½ stars out of 5.