If it were somehow possible to look past Robin Williams’ performance as a mentally challenged janitor, House of D could be seen as a saccharine yet creative coming-of-age film, hardly perfect but enjoyable enough. The problem is that one can never look past Williams, especially when he’s pulling out the proverbial Patch Adams clown nose for another overly sentimental, hyperactive romp.
Maybe David Duchovny was hoping to channel a little Affleck-Damon luck for his first stab at writing and directing a feature, betting on Williams to bring a little more Good Will Hunting to the part than Jakob the Liar.
But as easy as it would be to solely blame Williams and call the whole thing a fiasco, House of D has other faults, along with a few merits.
Duchovny starts the story in present-day Paris, where his character, Tom, an American expatriate artist, is coming clean to his French wife about his turbulent youth. The confession sets up flashbacks to Tom’s adolescence in New York City in the 1970s (the real Duchovny’s old stomping grounds).
The nearly 13-year-old Tom (Anton Yelchin) lives with his newly widowed and emotionally unstable mother (Téa Leoni). His best friend is Pappass (Williams), the assistant janitor at his all-boys school, a guy who seems mentally closer to Tom than his own father. But Tom is changing and finds he can’t talk about his adolescent problems to his mom or Pappass. So, he turns to the unlikeliest of people, a woman he can’t see, but who sees him from her window in the Women’s House of Detention. She’s played by the divine Erykah Badu, who could hum the theme to Barney and still sound immortal. Yelchin (who almost resembles the love child of Crispin Glover and Ashton Kutcher, were it possible) lends Tom an appropriate awkwardness and naïveté when courting his love interest Melissa, played by Robin Williams’s daughter, Zelda Williams. Their scenes are some of the most honestly nostalgic in the film (rivaled only by the kid who shouts “Sabbath!” between the disco and Southern rock tunes at the junior high dance).
For the most part, however, House of D gets overwhelmed by Williams; it’s mired in improbable turns of plot and Duchovny’s own sugary longing for the good old days. Any semblance of the laid-back, snarky wit one would expect from the former Fox Mulder gets drowned in pretty bike rides through Greenwich Village and chummy games of stickball. It all reads like a sappy love poem to a forgotten New York, one far too dreamy to be clever.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.