Discovering movies that are absolute gems is a personal fixation, and one film that continues to resonate is The House of Tomorrow. It hits select Los Angeles and New York theaters today, and if you’re into perceptively written coming-of-age stories, this narrative should be worth your time and effort . . .
Sebastian Prendergast (Asa Butterfield) is a 16-year-old who was raised inside a geodesic dome by Josephine (Ellen Burstyn, delivering excellent work as usual), his loving but controlling grandmother. The pair conduct tours of the dome and enlighten visitors on the teachings of visionary/futurist Buckminster Fuller.
Academic wise Sebastian is extremely learned, but when it comes to socializing he’s light years behind. When he meets a girl named Meredith (Maude Apatow) during one of the tours, he has an erection which, to his dismay and her surprise, he never anticipated.
Sebastian immediately becomes involved with Meredith family, as she’s the sister of Jared (Alex Wolff), a rebellious teen whose love for punk rock has to be slightly tempered due to a heart transplant. Punk rock, however, is hard to contain, and upon introduction to the genre, Sebastian is immediately hooked.
Jared may use punk to express his frustration with his condition and his religious and genial dad (Nick Offerman, who’s adept at playing cool fathers), but he’s also a talented songwriter and passionate musician. His initial standoffish behavior (nearing hostility) towards Sebastian gradually cools off, as they decide to form their own band (The Rash) and bring their music to fellow Minnesotans.
Based on Peter Bognanni’s 2010 novel and directed by Peter Livolsi, The House of Tomorrow is a tightly constructed (it’s just 85 minutes) story that thankfully doesn’t exploit its intriguing storyline. The comedy and the situations never veer into outrageous, slapstick driven avenues. When tragedy strikes, these moments are not played in a mawkish manner. Instead, Livolsi crafts an undeniably human tale amidst this spacey premise, and when Sebastian and Jared finally get their moment to shine, it’s absolute music to one’s ears.
Apatow, last seen in the first rate dramedy Other People, is also wonderful as the girl who helps Sebastian gradually come out of his shell, with Michaela Watkins providing comic relief as her way too indifferent mother.
A bit of synchronicity also enters the proceedings, as Burstyn also had a friendship with Fuller in real life and some their footage together is featured in the film. It’s a slight touch that adds to intimately constructed universe of The House of Tomorrow that doesn’t call attention to itself.
Under more stylized hands, the cinematic flourishes would be the film’s selling point, where the auteur’s vision would almost take precedence over the actual story. Though there is a rightfully deserved place for this type of cinema, Livolsi’s light touch, wherein he lets the human drama play sans all the bells and whistles, is a sight to behold.
Credit also goes to Rob Simonsen’s killer score which, while seemingly placing us in another time and place, keeps us thoroughly locked into the story. There’s a ton of punk rock to be had in The House of Tomorrow, but sometimes delivering a story that’s well told is more than enough, and whether or not you live in a geodesic dome, The House of Tomorrow may be a place that you’ll never want to leave.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
***I also discussed The House of Tomorrow on the latest episode of CinemAddicts. Take a listen below!