The House is one of those movies that puts certain critics like myself in a difficult position. On the one hand, it’s a stupid, ridiculous and mostly disposable Summer comedy that doesn’t do much to elevate the dismal state of R-rated comedies that have so far released in 2017. Despite that however, I can’t bring myself to truly dislike or be angry at The House, because I didn’t really struggle to laugh at it. I was fully aware of how stupid and brainless it is, and yet, somehow, it got through to me amid all of its empty-headed craziness.
Perhaps this comes down to the lead cast, which is packing quite a lot of star power with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler in the lead roles, rounded off by underrated comedy actor, Jason Mantzoukas as a highlight performer. Ferrell, Poehler and Mantzoukas are clearly having fun, and that manages to sell the movie’s ludicrous concept, if you’re not aiming to pick it apart. Perhaps my personal enjoyment of The House, despite its flaws, came down to knowing that analyzing it or picking it apart would be a fool’s errand, and something that no informed moviegoer would do anyway. So, if you’re looking for a ridiculous, yet competent big screen comedy to beat the heat this Summer, The House does manage to be a decent option, if you’re not expecting too much from it.
The House stars Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as fortysomething married couple, Scott and Kate Johansen, who are preparing to send their daughter, Alex, played by Ryan Simpkins, off to college. After Alex loses her college scholarship to a crooked city councilman however, played by Nick Kroll, Scott and Kate’s hot mess of a friend, Frank, played by Jason Mantzoukas, convinces them to open an illegal casino in his house. This unfolds with the expected comedy beats, namely the three being far more successful in their illegal enterprise than they ever imagined, which makes it gradually more difficult to resist their own greed, as well as the nosy authorities.
There isn’t much to most of the characters in the movie. They have simple quirks sure, even if they’re strange, like Scott’s weird anxiety with recounting numbers. The character that definitely registers the most, as I mentioned, is Mantzoukas’ Frank, a gambling-addicted head case who is desperate to reclaim the love of his bitter wife, a woman that is doing whatever she can to divorce him. As much as Ferrell and Poehler have a decent amount of funny sequences, it’s Mantzoukas that steals the movie and runs with it, making even the flimsier scenes better with his mere presence.
There’s plenty of other characters peppered around The House, including quick cameos by the likes of recognizable faces such as Randall Park and Jeremy Renner, though many of them simply serve as gag devices. Alex, likewise, is treated as a mere plot device, with Simpkins largely bumbling around and playing the straight woman to her two eccentric parents, not ultimately being given much to do. There obviously isn’t much to read into with this movie’s characters, and to an extent, that’s fine, as long as you’re coming entirely for silly laughs, and not looking for any depth.
The House has an excellent original premise, one ripe with comedic potential. That potential isn’t consistently reached across the board, mind you, but it’s tapped well enough to make for a decently silly Summer comedy. Not all of the jokes land, and some of the attempts at gags are more simply awkward than truly funny, but The House is certainly not unfunny, so long as its audience isn’t demanding too much of it. There isn’t much more to read into beyond that either. Perhaps some more experienced writing and directing hands could have gleaned more from it, but as it stands, the story of The House is undemanding, aims low, and for what it’s worth, doesn’t consistently miss with its simple humour target.
Andrew Jay Cohen directs The House, after writing both surprisingly great Neighbors movies, along with last year’s middling Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The House marks Cohen’s feature film directing debut, and honestly, it does show at times. There isn’t a lot of outstanding flair to The House, which feels like a small-scale, simplistic comedy, and much of the movie is built on silly randomness, rather than consistently witty gags.
The House certainly isn’t devoid of wit, mind you, since there are some more clever scenes and some especially hilarious gags, but this is a brainless comedy that hopes its audience doesn’t demand much from it, like I said. In most respects, this feels like an effort by Cohen to get his feet wet as a comedy director, before moving on to a bigger and more ambitious project, and I suppose that’s fair enough. Cohen lets Ferrell, Poehler and Mantzoukas in particular carry much of this movie’s personality, and even if this means not excelling, it still leads to a functional, if empty-headed comedy movie.
The House sadly doesn’t manage to truly elevate a middling to bad year for R-rated comedies, but it’s tough for me to be truly angry at it when I genuinely enjoyed its unique brand of silliness. Maybe it just caught me on a good day. Maybe the stars just lined up for my sense of humour. Whatever the case, the critic instincts in me see the good chunk of flaws throughout The House, but the moviegoer in me finds it tough to care that much about many of them. I imagine this is also likely due to the fact that 2017 has indeed been a pretty lacklustre year for R-rated comedies, no doubt lowering mine and many others’ expectations, and potentially allowing more middling, disposable comedies like The House to more easily get a pass from certain reviewers like myself by the year’s halfway mark.
It is however a pass with caveats. In order to enjoy The House, you do need to be fine with a pretty brainless comedy. You may also be better served by skipping the trip to the theatre, and waiting to rent the movie when it arrives for home viewing, if you happen to have a hankering for a brainless comedy. This is definitely a movie that demands you leave your brain at the door either way, but positive elements like the better scenes and the highlight performance of Jason Mantzoukas make this movie quite watchable, even if you enjoy it less than I may have. It’s really up to your approximate level of interest. In the case of The House, you don’t lose much by skipping it, but you don’t lose much by watching it and judging for yourself either. Maybe this will be another pure R-rated comedy misfire for you, or maybe, as I did, you’ll find an enjoyable, if forgettable farce that has enough charm to at least keep you smiling.
- Great original premise
- Jason Mantzoukas steals many scenes
- Some truly hilarious highlight gags
- Some scenes are simply awkward and not funny
- Barely any depth or definable personality to many characters
- Ridiculous storyline doesn't totally live up to the potential of the premise