On the surface, writer and director Peter Livolsi’s The House of Tomorrow checks all the boxes that would appeal to me: Minnesota, punk, Minnesota punk, youth facing serious challenges (I’m a 7th-grade Social Studies and English teacher by trade and a long-time youth worker), The Replacements, outside-the-mainstream living, and stealing from a church. Despite all of this, it felt like a lesser version of Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary YA novel The Perks of Being A Wallflower or the film SLC Punk. I know SLC Punk is pretty stupid (at least it’s not SLC Punk 2), and even so tends to think pretty highly of itself, and that the film version of Perks left a lot to be desired in terms of feels. But The House of Tomorrow left me colder than either of those.
The film tells the story of Sebastian, a “living experiment.” Sebastian is being raised by his grandmother Josephine in line with the ideas of R. Buckminster Fuller, described by his Institute as a “visionary.” Fuller appears in video clips throughout the film talking in vague terms about his goals for a more evolved humanity through the use of engineering, architecture, and science. Sebastian acts a little like an experiment, wide-eyed and shy, leading Meredith (Maude Apatow) to laugh at his “boner” when she touches his hand after wandering away from the tour group.
Sebastian and Josephine live in one of Fuller’s geodesic dome houses near North Branch, Minnesota and they host tours, including one for Alan and his Lutheran youth group, which includes his son, Jared, in full nihilist-snark mode during the tour and the q-and-a. That event ends when Josephine has a stroke following a flippant question from Jared.
It turns out that Jared is heavily medicated for a heart transplant (“I have someone else’s heart” is the way he winkingly puts it as he shows Sebastian the incision scar running between his pecs), and his father is in denial about the divorce Jared’s mother has completed. From here, the plot moves in and out of Sebastian’s acceptance by Alan, Jared, and Meredith, much like Perks did with Charlie, but the not-voice-over trick of emails exchanged between Sebastian and Jared never reaches the depth of feeling that would pull a viewer in.
Obviously, teenage boys are not always the most forthcoming with their feelings about anything, but it hurt the stakes some to never really see them connect until a climactic concert scene for their punk band (“The Rash”) at a teen party hosted at the Fuller dome house, which pushes for profundity and transcendence, but ends up being a little incomprehensible. There is a twist involving Macalester College that shows how far Sebastian is willing to reach outside of his “experiment” role following a scene where he serves Josephine grilled-cheese sandwiches withAmerican cheese on white bread, rather than the traditional cashew cheese on flax-seed.
In the end, there is a semi-cringey scene wherein Sebastian tells his grandmother about how “Bucky” Fuller was a punk. Maybe this wouldn’t be cringey for those not raised in the DIY punk scene, but it was a little tough to see the thesis explicated so directly in dialogue. He’s sort of right, but I already knew it, and being told it was tough to sit through.
The House of Tomorrow presents punk as a survival mode and a way of experiencing life. Being told that Bucky wanted people to “build a new model” made me want to sneer a little. I could just be a really old, snobby version of a philistine, though. I always defend “the kids” to older punks who want to trash beloved bands of the kids these days, and this movie could be just as important to kids coming up today as the VHS copy of the Clash’s 1980 film “Rude Boy” was for me. So I hope the kids dig it for that reason. It should be a great entry point for lots of people who are not as invested as I stupidly am.