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House of D is a bittersweet, moving story of an American expatriate's painful decision to come to terms with the childhood he fled in early 1970s New York City. David Duchovny wrote and directed this comedy-drama; he also stars as the adult version of the film's hero, Tom Warshaw, an illustrator who has spent most of his life in Paris and decideson the occasion of his son's birthdayto finally reveal long-withheld facts about his past.
The bulk of the story, told in flashback, portrays 13-year-old Tom (Anton Yelchin) as a quick-witted prince of his neighborhood, a delivery boy who knows every eccentric on his bicycle route and a Catholic school kid fond of playing pranks on his clueless French teacher and soulful principal (Frank Langella). His best friend is the school's mildly retarded, 41-year-old janitor, Pappas (Robin Williams), and his advisor on matters of the heart is Lady (Erykah Badu), a prison inmate whom the fatherless Tom (or Tommy, as he's called in 1973) can neither see nor touch. Tommy's vivacity is an asset at home, where his mother (Tea Leoni), a grieving widow with a mounting addiction to pills, is slipping away from her son's ability to help. Duchovny's screenplay sometimes borders on the precious: A number of scenes are enamored with their own boldness and originality, as if Duchovny has been squirreling away lots of colorfully expressive storytelling details for years, and unloaded them here. But that flaw all but disappears in the glow of House of D's emotional resonance and honesty, not to mention several exceptional performances. Among these is Zelda Williams's work as Tommy's sage-beyond-her-years girlfriend, Melissa, whose name offers a suitable excuse to work a rather lovely Allman Brothers song into the soundtrack. --Tom Keogh