The titular house in “The House of Tomorrow” is a geodesic dome; the type made famous by utopian futurist Buckminster Fuller in the 1960s. Domes are usually associated with Woodstock and hippie communes. However, Fuller was not a hippie whatsoever, but a ferocious intellect who dedicated his life to the improvement of humanity through his inventions.
So what goes on in this house of tomorrow? Sixteen-year-old Sebastian Prendergast (Asa Butterfield) has been homeschooled by his grandmother his whole life and shows church groups and school classes around the tourist-attraction home. Think he might have turned out a little weird? Talk about your awkward, gangling teen.
His nana (Ellen Burstyn), a devout mentee of “Bucky” Fuller, has brought Sebastian up in this ergonomic, utopian South of the Border. It doubles as her show-and-tell, learning center, and proselytizing shrine, with the intention that young Sebastian will follow in Fuller’s footsteps, manifest Fuller’s philosophy, and dramatically improve the world. (Do you think Sebastian will dramatically rebel at some point?)
Stealing the Wildman’s Cage-Key
The Mythopoetic Men’s movement’s explains that, in order to become a man and gain inner access to the mature masculine, a boy must steal the key to the cage where his inner wildman (Grimm’s fairy tale’s “Iron John”) is confined: out from under his mother’s pillow.
The mythology claims that women generally will not consciously and willingly give their little boys that key. They subconsciously want to keep their little boys, little boys. Because little boys are so wonderful! Who would want that to end? Nana certainly doesn’t. The key must be stolen. It must be wrested. And if, for nothing else, this coming-of-age tale becomes a good movie example of that.
And so, during one of Sebastian’s show-and-tell house tours, he meets his polar opposite, Jared Whitcomb (Alex Wolff), a fellow 16-year-old with a heart transplant who (naturally) chain-smokes and lives for punk rock. Soon, due to some of Jared’s dad Alan’s (Nick Offerman) manipulations, the boys have become fast friends with loads more in common than they originally thought and are fixing to have themselves a punk-rock band.
But wait a minute. Not so fast: This friendship has to first get past Jared’s full-blown predatory punk personality. He’s a self-absorbed, bitter, young cynic, and at first takes advantage of Sebastian’s supreme naïveté; making Sebastian filch a bass guitar from the local church basement and, furthermore, making him pay cash for punk-rock guitar lessons.
Sebastian spends a lot of time at the Whitcomb’s while Nana’s in the hospital and develops a painfully awkward crush on Jared’s sister Meredith (Maude Apatow). But a delightful transformation occurs when Jared puts his headphones over Sebastian’s ears and blasts some punk; it’s like watching an alcoholic have his first drink, but also, on a positive note, watching the inner Wildman stir.
Then, when the boys are all rehearsed up and ready to rock, Sebastian pulls a fiendish bait-and-switch on Nana, to get her out of the dome, and due to dedicated postering and the recruiting of Meredith (to recruit her cool friends), they have an intense, no-shirt, Mohawk-rockin’, dome-trashing concert-party with much inebriation and head-banging. Wildman cage-key successfully stolen!
Other Than That Little Story?
There are no real surprises here; it’s a little slice of life, but it’ll hold your attention due to the A-list cast, who know how to maintain the actor-to-actor tension and chemistry that renders each moment special and mysterious. One pays attention because, while you can predict the movie’s outcome, you can’t predict what the next moment will be.
The two points of resolution—Sebastian’s gaining self-awareness and self-confidence with his raw, onstage-Wildman loosing, and Jared’s bitterness finding some inner peace—are engrossing enough to keep one’s attention.
Ghost of Buckminster
The spirit of Bucky Fuller hovers around the movie in the form of educational videos (voice-over compliments of Fred Armisen), which Nana and Sebastian play for the House of Tomorrow tours, but the movie would have done well to showcase Fuller’s ideas more.
Would a Buckminster documentary be more interesting than using his philosophies as a backdrop for a story about a boy rebelling against a slightly culty upbringing? It does give the sense that the utopian concepts and guidelines will provide Sebastian with a kind of framework by which to make sense of the world.
However, it’s documented that Fuller at one point contemplated suicide so his family could benefit from his life insurance, which resulted in an experience that changed his life: He said he felt like he was floating above the ground and surrounded by a white light. A voice told him that his thoughts synced with the truth of the universe, and he didn’t have the right to kill himself because he did not belong to himself, but to the universe.
Furthermore, he was told the meaning of his life would forever remain a mystery to him, but that he should understand he was fulfilling his role if he worked to help others.
While it would have been interesting to see Sebastian’s awakening-to-manhood transformation further lead to some form of Fuller’s above-described enlightenment, the movie will perform the lesser function of modeling pillow key-stealing to cloistered boys on the verge, who feel the inner Wildman stirring but don’t know how to free him. And, as Nana is forced to admit, Buckminster Fuller’s tendency to think outside the box (houses are “Little Boxes” and he comes up with a geodesic dome) probably classified him as a proto-punkrocker.
‘The House Of Tomorrow’
Director: Peter Livolsi
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Alex Wolff, Nick Offerman, Ellen Burstyn, Fred Armisen, Maude Apatow
Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Release Date: April 20, 2018
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5