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D: Peter Livolsi / 86m

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Alex Wolff, Nick Offerman, Ellen Burstyn, Maude Apatow, Michaela Watkins

The House of Tomorrow is a museum built to honour the life and work of noted futurist R. Buckminster Fuller. Run by one of his devotees, Josephine Prendergast (Burstyn) and her grandson, Sebastian (Butterfield), it sits in a beautiful woodland setting but doesn’t have a lot of visitors. When a Lutheran church group led by their pastor, Alan Whitcomb (Offerman), and including his son, Jared (Wolff), take a tour one day, Josephine suffers a stroke. While she’s in hospital, Sebastian finds himself spending more and more time with Jared, and experiencing his first actual friendship. Jared has recently had a heart transplant, and has ambitions to start a punk rock band. He convinces Sebastian to be the band’s bass player, but the time they spend together begins to interfere with Sebastian’s work at the museum, especially when Josephine returns home. Wanting to broaden his horizons, but afraid of hurting his grandmother, Sebastian finds himself living a double life. When Alan refuses to allow Jared’s band a spot at a church talent show, Sebastian uses subterfuge to ensure the museum can be used as a venue instead, something that has far-reaching consequences…

Sometimes it’s hard to work out just what would happen if the movies didn’t have the coming of age tale to revisit over and over. Dozens, if not hundreds of movies each year would vanish from the release schedules, and literary adaptations such as this one – from Peter Bognanni’s novel – would no longer see the light of day. On the one hand, that might be a good thing; just how many times can a teenager be seen to make the same mistakes in a variety of guises without it becoming tiresome? The answer, of sorts, can be found in The House of Tomorrow, a mostly well handled indie drama that takes a home-schooled innocent and throws him head first into the world in order to help him take the first steps towards maturity. Along the way, Sebastian learns to lie and steal (and apparently without regret), and to explore new experiences through his friendship with Jared, and Jared’s sister, Meredith (Apatow). In the hands of first-time writer/director Livolsi, all of this is treated very matter-of-factly, and in a deliberate manner that aids the material immensely, and which prompts good performances from all concerned.

However, though the movie is, on the whole, a good one, it does suffer from a kind of narrative indolence that it can’t avoid no matter how hard Livolsi and his talented cast try. Sebastian’s journey is so familiar to audiences, and the story is so predictable, that it robs the movie of any emotional impact. There’s simply not enough here to resonate, whether it’s Jared’s rebellious spirit and punk sensibility, or his heart condition, or Josephine’s increasing sadness and fear as she begins to understand Sebastian is willingly drifting away from her. Here, all this narrative familiarity is at least offset by the aforementioned quality of the performances (with Offerman on particularly good form), and Livolsi’s attention to detail, but even with Corey Walter’s savvy cinematography and a punk-centric soundtrack that includes tracks by The Stranglers and The Germs, The House of Tomorrow remains a movie that tries hard but succeeds only in offering a number of expected conclusions and outcomes. Even the use of R. Buckminster Fuller and his thoughts on architecture and systems design are used as an occasional diversion rather than as an integral part of the narrative. Which leaves little else for the casual viewer to enjoy, and that’s truly a shame.

Rating: 6/10 – lacking the depth or originality that could have elevated the material, The House of Tomorrow is a perfunctory coming of age tale that offers a diluted crash course in Teen Angst 101; while it’s not affecting, it is at least honest in its endeavours, but not so much that it offers viewers anything more than the barest of dramatic rewards.