The House (2017) (Review)

Article published on Film Inquiry and Rotten Tomatoes

Comedy is the most divisive genre out there. I've said it time and time before but what makes one person laugh can make another roll their eyes into the back of their skull; it is so selective. More than many though, my opinions towards these films tend to challenge the general consensus: last year's critically-thrashed The Boss made me cackle with laugher while the acclaimed and heralded The Nice Guys went completely amiss on me. Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler's The House has been received even less favourably than Melissa McCarthy's Boss; does this mean I'll love it? Even more so when you consider my absolute love for all things Poehler? Well, erm...

College is expensive and after losing their daughter's scholarship, Scott (Ferrell) and Kate (Poehler) decide to launch an illegal casino in the basement of their friend's house to raise money for her tuition. As with most comedies, the premise acts only as a vehicle for the shenanigans and farce of the situation, with the talented actors riffing and improvising. Alongside Ferrell and Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Nick Kroll, Ryan Simpkins and (in a jaw-dropping moment) Jeremy Renner join the cast, all helmed by comedy director and one half of the the writing team, Andrew Jay Cohen.

While Poehler is easily one of my favourite comedians of the moment, Ferrell has never been my cup of tea, making the pairing an interesting one to say the least. Thankfully, Amy's natural charm helps dull the grating Ferrell's inclination towards the wide-eyed, over the top shtick he always gravitates towards; it is present here, but a little more digestible because of her. Unfortunately, the script does neither of them many favours at all and it is only by their natural talents that they get by here, creating some funny moments but nothing more. They often feel restricted by the characters who are one-dimensional as they come, fuelled only by Scott's poor mathematics skill, Kate's love for her daughter and... not a lot else. It is fair to say you don't come to a film like this for the character work and development, but The House barely even gets them off the ground. Ferrell and Poehler are wholly to thanks for their characters because the script pretty much gives up on them early on. Everybody else is decent enough, including Mantzoukas who brings a committed performance to the fold, including a genuinely shocking 'omg' cameo from Jeremy Renner (I would love to know how they swung that) but are facing an uphill battle with lacklustre characters and writing.

Simply, many of The House's problems boil down to the script. I certainly chuckled a handful of times and did have a smile on my face for the most part, but nothing is memorable and I'm having a difficult time recalling anything noteworthy. Except for one scene that is enough to convince any director to give Amy Poehler a flamethrower in every single role she undertakes, it is oddly flat and uninspired through, lacking a sparkle that is imperative for a film like this - particularly one that sells itself on the name of its leads, in this case, two of the most popular comic actors working in Hollywood. It is utterly forgettable and the unfulfilled potential is damning, but in the moment it is a frothy, fluffy slice of light entertainment that scrapes through by the very skin of its teeth. Like a hangover after the type of night our duo host, you'll not remember much of it the next day.

Andrew Jay Cohen does better as a director than as a co-writer. Thanks to some lovely production design (honestly, the casino is beautiful and the provider of some really great shots), he operates in a slick way that keeps the runtime at a merciful 88 minutes. Many would be tempted to have a comedy with two of the genres firecrackers as their leads overcook, dwelling on their improvisation and efforts, but Cohen knows when to restrict the film and crack on with things; the film wastes no time to start with either, jumping into the main narrative in just a couple of minutes, helping maintain that tight-ish runtime. Now, if only Cohen could have injected some life and excitement to pick things up every now and then: it just remains so flat throughout. With no disrespect intended, it is like an SNL sketch that runs on for far too long. 

It is a shame that The House never learns how to utilise its plethora of talent effectively. Ferrell and (particularly) Poehler are two of the most consistent comedians in the industry - no matter your personal view or interest in them - but even they cannot find much life here. The script is like an SNL sketch stretched out over almost 90 minutes, which would be fine if it provided our duo and their supporting players with some stronger gags, but it does not, leaving them to do the heavy lifting - and there's only so much you can do revolving around such a thin idea. But, with a film like The House, you should know what to expect, so if you temper your expectations appropriately, you can find some light, frothy entertainment in The House. This Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell's double-hander is serviceable but there's nothing here to bring the house down. I'll see myself out.

(And just so you know, at least two of these four and a half stars are for Amy Poehler and her flamethrower.)


Summary: The House cashes-in because of the natural talent of its two leads but is an otherwise wasted opportunity. It's surprising flat but at a merciful 88 minutes, you can just about find enough to be entertained by in this frothy but forgettable comedy.