House of Tomorrow Asa Butterfield Alex WolffYear: 2018
Director(s): Peter Livolsi
Writer(s): Peter Bognanni, Peter Livolsi
Region of Origin: USA

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 85 mins

Synopsis: Tells futurist, architect, and inventor Buckminster Fuller’s incredible story through two teens hoping to get laid, become punk gods, and survive high school. (Source)

Coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen, but every once in a while, we get a real gem. Case in point, Peter Livolsi’s The House of Tomorrow, which blends punk with futurism to heartfelt affect. Adapted from Peter Bognanni’s novel, Livolsi captures teen angst with anthemic glee, contrasting repression and rebellion with nuanced complexity. At it’s core, Livolsi’s film is grounded yet leaps off the screen with understated grace, paying tribute to inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller in a way we’d never thought possible. Anchored with a dynamic cast, Livolsi’s film is bound to strike a nerve with both young and old, showing that, in terms of self-liberation, the only rule, is that there are no rules.

16-year-old Sebastian (Asa Butterfield) and his grandmother Josephine (Ellen Burstyn) live in and maintain a tourist spot called the House of Tomorrow. The geodesic dome is a monument and invention of late futurist Buckminster Fuller. Though the unique historical site was once a window to the future, however, it’s now a fading view of what could’ve been. Pulling from her time as one of Fuller’s acolytes, Josephine has raised Sebastian with Fuller’s values, treasuring a world engineered for clean, innovative sustainability and forward thinking. But while Josephine’s strict upbringing has positioned Sebastian with a consciousness towards literacy, it’s also left him sheltered. After Josephine suffers from a stroke, Sebastian’s forced to travel outside of what he’s known, befriending a budding punk rocker named Jared (Alex Wolff). Together, the pair learn that despite their self-perceived limitations, they have more than they’ve ever dreamed of.

Even with Sebastian and Jared’s shifting relationship as the film’s anchor, its shining trait is how it celebrates family while dissecting individualism and connection. Opposites attract in more ways than one, as Livolsi orchestrates endearing relationships with understated purity. Never leaning too hard on sentimentality, Livolsi’s film feels more sincere than anything else, contrasting clashing ideals without ever judging flawed characters. It’s nice to see a nonjudgmental view of faith mixed into the film’s punk ethos, strained parental relationships that don’t paint parents as enemies and a view of punk that’s more primal than trendy. Since Livolsi doesn’t shy away from some truly tragic plot points, the film’s triumphs feel earned and organically formed. Needless to say, nothing is ever forced, with Livolsi capturing how we make due with what we’ve got and cope with what we can’t control.

House of Tomorrow Asa Butterfield Ellen BurstynAccenting the film’s sensitivity, is a strong ensemble without any weak spots. Butterfield’s Sebastian is unwittingly alien in the best ways, smart and inquisitive yet lacking in social understanding. Wolff is a perfect opposite as Jared. He’s the recipient of a heart transplant and trapped in his own body, yet yearning to break free. Wolff honestly kinda steals the movie, supplying a lot of its irreverent charm and free-spirited energy. Not to be outdone, Nick Offerman is brilliant as Jared’s father Alan, heading up a church youth group despite some inner demons. Ellen Burstyn’s Josephine is great as well, giving Butterfield’s Sebastian an overprotective grandmother who means well but is also afraid of losing her only tether to the past. Lastly, Maude Apatow contributes a few tender moments as Meredith, even in a minor role.

The House of Tomorrow is warm but also truthful despite how much that can hurt. By and large, the film tackles ideas that are prevalent in real life, yet don’t get much play in the genre. Livolsi’s keen eye for inner struggle highlights how punk is more than leather jackets or jagged guitar riffs. It’s also a reminder compassion and understanding come from looking beyond our own interests. Simple, fundamental ideas, but important ones that we sometimes forget or take for granted.