THE HOUSE (2017)

The House is part of My Summer of Summer Movies, in which I am attempting to see and review every movie that opens (in Chicago) between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Read all about this ill-advised plan here

In Andrew Jay Cohen's The House, suburban couple Scott and Kate (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are proud that their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) has been accepted at prestigious Bucknell University. But when corrupt city councilman Bob (Nick Kroll) redirects Alex's scholarship money towards a new town pool, Scott and Kate have no choice but to open an underground casino and fight club with their friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) in order to pay Alex's tuition. Soon, they are raking in the dough, threatening their friends and neighbors with hatchets and blowtorches, and walking in slow-motion—as all white people must, eventually, walk—to the ironic beats of a gangsta rap soundtrack.

The House raises a lot of important questions about the human condition and the age in which we live. In lieu of a review, I think our time will be better spent pondering these questions, even if they—like all the great philosophical quandaries—are ultimately unanswerable.

Some of them are questions about the film's fascinatingly enigmatic screenplay:

  1. What kind of town can afford to support a multi-million dollar illegal gambling operation, but doesn't already have a pool?
  2. Is it even legal for such a town to pull a scholarship from a student to whom it has already been awarded?
  3. How can Scott and Kate afford to live in a gigantic McMansion in this town, but not to send their one child to college?
  4. Does Bucknell University not offer financial aid?
  5. Do banks not exist?
  6. Did Alex not get any other scholarships? (I mean, she's kind of a bland character, but she wears glasses, so we know she must be smart.)
  7. How can Scott and Kate's neighbors afford to keep pumping millions of dollars through this casino, and why on earth would they?
  8. Is everyone in this town—the couple, their child, the city council, the town's residents and its seemingly lone police-officer—brain damaged? Is it possible this is like one of those towns in Europe, designed so that people with severe dementia can live a vaguely convincing simulacrum of a normal life without wandering into traffic or setting themselves on fire?

Other questions have larger sociopolitical ramifications, posing riddles that ruthlessly interrogate the troubling tenor of our times:

  1. Why was the screenwriter of Neighbors—whose previous directing credits are limited to three shorts and a failed TV pilot—allowed to make such a faux-edgy, unfunny, tonally disastrous hash of a movie?
  2. Did none of the relatively talented people involved—Ferrell, Poehler, Mantzoukas, Kroll, Rob Huebel, Cedric Yarbrough, and Jeremy Renner, among many others—actually read the script and notice that there's not a single believable character or a genuine laugh to be found?
  3. Is the presence of these people in this film perhaps proof that they, themselves, lost a bet?
  4. If so, can we consider that to be an example of metafictional dramatic irony, and a better cautionary tale about the dangers of gambling and poor decision-making than any that are provided in the movie?
  5. How many more stories about insufferably privileged white suburbanites comically "breaking bad" will we be forced to endure?
  6. Does the proliferation of these stories—which allow such people to do illegal, unspeakably horrible, and absurdly irresponsible things, but inevitably to return to their impregnable bubbles of privilege having suffered no negative consequences—partially fill some profoundly pathetic and deeply troubling abyss in the flawed and fractured soul of White America?
  7. Seriously, how does a movie this bad get made? It's not like movies happen by accident. No one just gets drunk, goes home with a studio one night, and wakes up nine months later to find they've given birth to an ugly movie they now have to support. Movies require millions of dollars in investment, and deliberate decisions made by high-ranking corporate executives. Lawyers and bankers and agents were involved. Contracts were signed. Things were approved. Hundreds of people worked very hard, for a year or more, to painstakingly realize a shared vision—and this is what they ended up with. How does that happen? 
  8. And, perhaps more importantly: how do we stop it from happening again?

But any truly great movie—and, coincidentally, this movieconfronts the viewer with questions that are deeply personal, existential, even spiritual in nature:

  1. What am I doing with my life?
  2. Why did I recklessly commit to reviewing every movie that opens this summer?
  3. What else could I have done with the $15 I spent on a ticket to The House, the 90 joyless minutes I spent watching it, and the hour or so I spent writing this post? (I mean, I could have gone to a casino. It would have been more fun, and I probably would have come back with a profit. I'm not a bad blackjack player, actually.)
  4. No, really, if anyone knows, please, for the love of God, tell me: what the hell am I doing with my life?

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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