Ball in the House (2001) Poster

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Great Movie with Amazing Performances!
zooeyfan18 August 2002
I just saw this movie at the Malibu Film Festival and thought that it was quite wonderful. The story is about a young man named JJ who at 17 years old has been sent away to rehab after driving drunk and getting into an accident. After 6 months away, he returns home to not so open arms. While his mother is excited to see him, his step-father thinks he's a huge screw-up and won't let him live down his previous life as an alcoholic. Meanwhile, his aunt Dot has taken out a $75,000 life insurance policy on JJ and plans to lure him back to drugs and alcohol, and hopefully into an early grave before his 18th birthday. JJ has to struggle to stay sobber amongst his constantly boozing aunt, partying ex-girlfriend, and drug dealing best friend Bobby, whom he owes $3,500.

While the story itself is really good, the main thing that makes this movie worth seeing it the terrific performances from everyone involved. Jonathan Tucker is fantastic as the emotionally troubled JJ, and convincingly portrays all the emotions of his character. The only other thing I've seen him in is The Deep End, and while I disliked that movie, his performance there was solid as well. I expect great things from him. And Jennifer Tilly is, of course, perfect as the seductive aunt Dot, who plans to kill JJ for half of his insurance money. The real star of this movie, however, is Ethan Embry, who gives the most

amazing performance I've seen out of him yet. I've been a fan since I saw All I Want For Christmas as the age of 9 or 10, and consider Empire Records one of my favorite movies, but this, this is the movie where he really shines. He plays JJ's drug dealing best friend Bobby, who is willing to break JJ's legs if he doesn't get the $3,500 owed to him by JJ's 18th birthday (just 16 days away). He convincingly portrays a scary, intimidating, just plain crazy guy, and I loved every second.
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Overly Earnest
dj_bassett8 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Jonathan Tucker is back from a six month rehab stint. His stepdad is angry, is mother is clueless, and he has relatives who (Ms. Jennifer Tilly, doing the 'maneater' variant of her persona) want to kill him for the life insurance policy. Overly earnest low-budgeter is so suffused with trying to be 'important' and 'meaningful' and saying something about addiction that it ceases to be entertaining in any way -- it is, in fact, something of a grind to sit through. Though it certainly means well. Cast is good and crew does the best with it's limited budget, giving everything a fairly good gritty blue-collar vibe. But really, the script signals all it's punches, with everyone speaking in a peculiar "writerly" arch kind of way. And it's positively righteous during the flashbacks at the rehab center -- no one doubts the sincerity of it all, but it just clunks about on screen. Not recommended.
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7/10
Away from the audience...But still alive
jpschapira4 June 2005
When we first meet JJ (Jonathan Tucker), he has just got out of a rehab center. His doctor drives him home and JJ asks him to drive in circles around the corner; the doctor refuses. JJ is scared to see his mom, brother and stepfather. "It was the center or jail", he explains later to a friend. It actually seems like he's returning from jail.

Mother Phyllis (Deirdre O'Connell), brother Benji (Nathan Kiley), stepfather Bull (Dan Moran) are ready to welcome the boy home, joined by uncle Ernie (Larry Neumann, Jr.) and his spicy wife Dot (Jennifer Tilly). In the welcome scene, as in every other scene, there's a mysterious environment that involves looks between the characters; looks of anger and unsaid things. The family seems like a graveyard of secrets, that once they're hidden, they never get to see the light again, unless someone opens them. This is not as weird as it sounds; it's all real when JJ arrives, as it is real what happened to him that led to the rehab center. But it's not about what happened, it's about the reasons that made it possible and about one person who has never known a place in the world and has probably lived a fantasy.

The movie is shown in time changes; one is the present (or "the moment", as JJ lives it), with JJ adjusting to his life again, working and trying to stay sober; and the other one is the past, with periodical showings of session in the rehab center, where JJ traps all the attention and we get to see why he is the guy he is when he hasn't even turned eighteen. A key character in these aspects is Dr. Charlie (David Strathairn), who makes JJ realize about the important things in life. But Dr. Charlie could also be conspiring, as many of the others are.

As JJ moves on with things, we meet two characters of his age; Bobby (Ethan Embry) and Lizzie (Aleksa Palladino). The first one is a friend from childhood that had too much fun with him as they were growing up and now there are debts between them. JJ owes Bobby $3500 and starts working so he can earn them. Lizzie was his girlfriend, but left him for Tommy after he went to the rehab center. Did she write him? No. Did she visit him? No. The script presents test for all the characters, and we really want them to pass them. We could think that JJ went to the rehab center as a strategy; to get away from everything. But how can we know? We could think the doctor wants the best for him, that Lizzie cares for him, that Bull and Phyllis are supporting him…We're never really sure and JJ isn't even, because he is beginning to discover his own self.

The only thing we know for sure is Dot's ambitions; she wants everything, and she's married to a man who thinks she loves him when you can tell she doesn't. We have to make all of our deductions from there, if we want to predict or something, but if not, we can sit and experience. The movie is a nice experience to witness. It has nice but simple visuals, achieved by a respectable team lead by director Tanya Wexler, who darkens things a little bit so we don't have to see them entirely. Together with a simple but adequate music, the feeling is clear.

Then it took Matthew Swan to create the story and write, so casting directors Mickie Paskal, Susan Shopmaker and Rachel Tenner looked for the right people that would give life to the material; all this resulting in powerful and moving performances, in higher levels than these films usually bring. Jonathan Tucker and Dan Moran become the movie's highlights. I've read (don't remember where) that Tucker is inexpressive, and I disagree. He is owner of a dramatic complexity that takes over him and makes him shine (it happened in the heart-whelming "Stateside"). Dan Moran is one of those always familiar faces that you can't tell if you've really seen or not before. He plays the most difficult role of the film, and he's stunning. In the best scene of the movie, Bull and JJ have a talk. Just watch Moran's look and Tucker's reaction in a father-son talk between a stepfather and his stepson, where the step father proves to be more a father than anything else. One of the best moving scenes about deep talks I've seen in quite a while.

Jennifer Tilly has been doing the same for years and she can't help it anymore, so we forgive her, even when she's not that great now. A totally unrecognizable Ethan Embry (although I was sure it was him) gives the best performance of his career since "White Squall"; a thing many people won't be able to see. All of his expressions are proof of the gifted actor he is. Deirdre O'Connell and Larry Neumann, Jr. are a little unnoticeable in their roles, as is Aleksa Palladino; however they all deliver correctly.

"Ball in the house" has many positive elements, but it doesn't succeed completely. Still, it deserves a watch from many people, but that couldn't happen in cinema. Another of those good movies that never reach the movie theaters.
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9/10
An amazing movie that no one will see
langolier94 March 2003
This is one of those little movies that you leave just shaking your head thinking, `this is probably the best movie playing in this theatre right now, too bad no one will ever get to see it.' Personally, I just happened by it when my girlfriend convinced me to go to an Independent Film Festival. This has got to be the most independent film I have ever seen, I even got to ask the director the question, `what are you going to do to get this movie out there.'

Not all movies need a lot of money to tell a great and touching story. I was consumed by this tale of a 17-year-old boy struggling with alcohol addiction. His family is not just a bunch of stereotypes placed there to progress the story, they, along with everyone else, have the feeling of real people. You will not predict how this movie will end but, then again, you'll never get the chance to watch it.
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10/10
Great film--fantastic writing
jessiebeth25 January 2005
This is a great movie--rent it on DVD as fast as you can....The acting is superb, and the writing is some of the best I've seen in years. Nothing rings false, which is rare in my experience. Jonathan Tucker, David Strathairn, and Jennifer Tilly all give true performances, and Ethan Embry is perfect. The setting--the locations--the music--all add to the atmosphere and pull you in till you can't look away. I want to see this movie again in the theaters, but I'll have to make do with the DVD for now... Never predictable, and achingly funny and sad at the same time. See this movie--if you have to go out in the freezing cold snow right now!!
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Strong and depressing
boberck25 August 2002
I saw the movie at the Chicago premier. I have to agree with zooeyfan. Extremely powerful amazing performances. Jennifer Tilly is poisonous. Ethan Embry is menacing. Jonathan Tucker is excellent. The cinematography is quite good. But what a bunch of dysfunctional characters, and what a sad movie!
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8/10
Surprisingly great, except for the end; stated not for the usual reasons.
bdewar12 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this film on TV; it just ended moments ago. I was pleasantly surprised by the things brought out about people that exist everywhere.

The only fault that I found with this truly great motion picture was the ending. I am not saying that all great films should have a happy or sad ending or it is bad to have an ending that leaves the thought, "I wonder" ...

What I am saying is that playing fast and loose with so many, many constant flash backs and flash forwards, and then doing the same thing throughout the short, stark ending, can leave the viewer with no idea of what really happens or happened at the end. Is he back with the group session or is that another flash back in the last few seconds of the film?

If that was the purpose, as many films have had an ending that leaves one up in the air; I am not sure that doing it via flash forewords or flashbacks, up through and into the last frames, is really smart movie making. It is like having someone spend hours or days reading a novel, only to find out that the last three pages were not printed. That may tread on ... I hate to use the word here on a great film, but here at the end I felt cheated, by a gimmick.

Other than that I could not take my eyes off the screen.
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good movie about naughty people
supah20 December 2001
A little dark- literally and in plot. Jonathan Tucker is excellent, as is Tilly. A little like the Roseanne Barr show without basal morals. Chunks of sad and chunks of funny. Like Tilly with the grocery delivery guy .

I don't know what possessed Mr. Swan to write this because it's depressing. Hopeless people doing what fate programmed them to do?
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