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The House review: Dir. Andrew Jay Cohen (2017)

The House review: Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler lead the cast of this surprisingly good studio comedy that have you laughing all the way to the bank.

The House review by Paul Heath, June 2017.

The House review

The House review

Warner Bros. Pictures take a big $40 million gamble with another big concept comedy with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler as two parents who must find a get-rich-quick scheme to finance their daughter’s incoming college bills.

Scott Johansen is a regular guy with a good house in the suburbs, loyal wife Kate (Amy Schumer), great daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins), and just enough income to keep them all afloat. However, with Alex about take the big leap into university life, they are very much relying on their town’s scholarship scheme to fund her continuing education. At a local council meeting in this very small town, it becomes quickly apparent that the townsfolk have opted to build a massive community swimming pool instead of piling money into their scholarship scheme. With Alex already accepted into a prestigious college, Scott and Kate are determined to make her dream happen, whatever the cost.

Following a trip to miserable loss-making trip to Las Vegas with Scott’s best friend Frank (an on-form Jason Mantzoukas), who has just separated with his wife due to gambling and online pornography addictions, the three set about turning one of their houses into a glittering casino, complete with craps tables, poker room and even outside pool party area, to try to bag some quick loot to settle their debts – because after all, the house always wins.

The House review

The House review

To say we entered the only press screening of The House prior to opening with low expectations is an understatement, but the truth is The House is perhaps a true surprise – one of the best comedies of the year and Ferrell’s best work since The Other Guys.

After a slightly bumpy start, The House ups its game from about ten minutes in, Ferrell and Poehler perfectly matched as a fun, loving couple who only really want what’s best for their blossoming daughter. This is Ferrell in Old School territory, the comedian finding familiar ground where he truly excels. Parallels with Todd Phillips’ underrated 2003 comedy don’t end with the familiar plot beats, and hilariously set-pieces; his character of Scott channelling elements of Frank The Tank – particularly when ‘The Butcher’ comes out to play.

In fact, this alter ego delivers some of the best parts of the film. In an exceptional set-piece that is part Casino with a memorable scene involving a back-room vice, and part-Goodfellas (we even hear ‘Rags To Riches’ over the soundtrack), Ferrell unleashes fury as he strives to protect the reputation of his underground casino.

Poehler too delivers a memorable, highly hilarious turn as the former college wild-child turned homely mother, and following strong work on 2015’s Sisters with Tina Fey, continues on her quest to become one of the best comedic actresses working in Hollywood today. This exceptional turn will do no harm to that status.

The House review

The House review

As well as the leads, there is wonderful support. Mantzoukas is great as the down-on-his-luck newly single man intent on turning his life around, as well as Cedric Yarbrough, Lennon Parham and Kyle Kinane who make up just some of the trio’s neighbours, who soon become embroiled in the shenanigans within the four walls of the suburban casino. There’s also a wonderful turn from Nick Kroll as the villain of the piece, the council chair Bob, who not only cancels Kate’s scholarship in return for the big local pool, but also holds the keys to the future of the illegal casino.

The film is littered with tons of film and television references too – everything from the aforementioned Martin Scorsese gangster movies to Terminator 2 and The Sopranos –  all of which are surprisingly well-handled, and often, most importantly, laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Somehow the film manages to avoid cliché and the jokes pretty much manage to land effortlessly. There is a well-advertised cameo at the end which doesn’t quite work – it would have been a perfect part for someone like Vince Vaughn, John C. Reilly (which would have been a very nice touch) or even De Niro himself, an actor that gets many mentions during the film’s lean running time.

The House is a well-rounded, very funny comedy that might just be up there as one of the funniest of the year. While Ferrell-haters may baulk at the funnies, this is a welcomed return to form for the comedic actor and a brilliant directorial debut for Andrew Jay Cohen. Most importantly, it’s a belting time at the pictures.

The House review by Paul Heath.

The House is released in UK cinemas on June 30th, 2017.


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