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My Father's House   B+

Holden Automotive

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Larry Holden
Writer: Larry Holden
Cast: Jeremy Garrett, Paige Moss, Michael John White, Howard Keel, Ryan L. Holden, Clint Culp, Mike Donaldson, Robert David Hall.

Review by Rob Vaux

It's amazing how affecting the right words can be when they're presented without gimmicks or embellishments. My Father's House, a beyond-indie production from 2002, attains that rare mixture of power and subtlety precisely because it never gilds the lily. Like The Blair Witch Project, it turns its budgetary shortcomings into a stylistic asset -- in this case by focusing on a fine script and strong performances. Writer-director Larry Holden is an actor himself (he played Katie Holmes' boss in Batman Begins) and he leans heavily upon his cast to deliver what his far-from-bottomless checkbook can't. And what do you know? The results are as strong and emotionally truthful as any piece of A-list Oscar bait.

The challenge is more daunting than it first appears. Holden's script, detailing the complex relationship between a quiet young man (Jeremy Garrett) and his recently departed father (Michael John White), looks on the surface like a summer-stock vanity project. It's delivered in a series of near monologues, using extended takes and only the barest of dramatic impetus to propel the film forward. But there are subtleties in the dialogue that allow the characters to bloom in touching and graceful ways.

That doesn't mean much, however, if the cast can't pull it off. Without a strong effort in front of the camera, the film's revelations will vanish, leaving only shallow first impressions and a faint whiff of pretension. Furthermore, Holden's penchant for long takes means that the actors have absolutely nowhere to hide; they must hold our attention from first reel to last, or else we're lost. Thankfully, the performers all respond with aplomb, delivering dedicated work that allows the script's finer nuances to breathe without pounding them to death. Excessive theatricality sometimes crops up -- largely because the cast has only each other to rely upon -- but it never becomes more than a passing nuisance.

Holden bolsters his performers with a few cinematic techniques that lift My Father's House above canned stage work. Eddie Regan (Garrett), the fulcrum of the piece, struggles with the passing of a father to whom he felt extraordinarily close. The senior Regan was career military, but the two had plans to open a repair shop together when the time came. Their ties extended deeper than just father and son, joined by tragedies that only come to light in measured, gradual steps. A sense of loss colors every aspect of Eddie's life -- most notably his tenuous links with his girlfriend Jenna (Paige Moss) -- but only his father truly understands why. Choosing when and how to reveal the pertinent facts is one of the film's great strengths, one that slowly and deliberately pulls us right into the characters' skin.

The notion of memory also plays a large part in the proceedings, and here too Holden uses the medium to good effect. My Father's House is dominated by flashbacks, as Eddie comes to grips with his past and attempts to determine his future. They unfold with the same lack of artifice as the rest of the film, revealing information through natural interplay rather than clumsy exposition. The film is shot in black and white, and is deliberately grainy -- intended to evoke the stock of home movies -- which creates a lovely atmosphere of sadness and nostalgia. It's quite compelling in its own right, which is important because very little is spelled out up front. A Hollywood production would have clarified the plot to the point of transparency, shoving every twist and turn in our face so as not to lose a single note. My Father's House demands more than that: careful attention is required to grasp what it's trying to say, and to understand the meaning behind the words. The payoff is worth the effort, however, and at 75 minutes, it never tries our patience.

Holden likely couldn't make this film outside of his own auspices; even small production houses aren't set up for the delicacy to which he aspires. It's heartening, then, to realize that films like this can still arrive under their own power -- that an artist with a vision can stay true to it, even when the odds favor 40-foot billboards and multiplex saturation. My Father's House isn't an easy film to find (it took three years to reach our doors here at Flipside), but those who seek it out will find a rare and touching treasure: the kind of film that does what far more prominent pieces can only dream of doing.

Review published 09.08.2005.

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