There are so many things that draw people into a seeing a movie: the trailer, the genre, the director, the cast, the aesthetic, etc… Usually it’s a combination of a lot of these things, but I would like to focus on the cast for a moment. While most of the time you can look at a cast and totally see the logic behind it, there are other, glorious, times where you see a list of names and it looks kind of weird, but you’re definitely interested to see how it plays out. Case in point, Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, and Geoffrey Rush!? Just look at how well that panned out. Slightly similar thinking was lighting up my mind when I saw that Jack Black and Cate Blanchett were in a movie together, so yesterday the movie of choice was The House With a Clock in Its Walls.
Set in the 1950s the film follows the adventures of young Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) when he moves in with his estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) after the death of his parents. Upon his first night there he hears an ominous ticking coming from somewhere in the house and soon discovers that his uncle and his neighbour (Cate Blanchett) are a witch and warlock trying to locate a clock hidden by an evil warlock that is counting down the days to the end of the world.
A bit Hugo, a bit Harry Potter, The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a sweet movie, but definitely nothing to gush over. The central plot of the doomsday clock and the mystery behind who put it there is somewhat watered down by Lewis’ story of self-discovery that runs parallel. Where the two stories bleed together works well, but as separate plotlines they both aren’t pushed to their full potential. Black and Blanchett’s hunt for the clock is told in hushed snippets and tones (for the most part) and Lewis’ story of trying to make friends despite his obvious weirdness is kind of boring and wafer thin. There are some sweet messages and some effective gags (though the toilet humour gets old pretty quick) and I did like that this did not feel like a movie that was trying hard to be something. Nothing feels forced or is trying to be like something else, the story and the characters are allowed to speak for themselves and I appreciated that.
But where the film stands up is with its strange, yet endearing central cast. Black and Blanchett as bickering friends is such an unlikely pairing, but it works really well. The two spend the movie hurling adorable PG insults at each other, whilst at the same time having this unspoken but obvious regard for one another. Vaccaro, when he’s not screaming annoyingly, is a good protagonist and while he goes through a 360 degree journey of starting the film happy with who he is, then goes through a period of self-doubt, and emerges from the rabbit hole embracing his weirdness again, his story is nonetheless sweet and relevant, and he delivers a solid performance that stands toe to toe with the pros.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls is not groundbreaking or critically incredible, but it is a sweet and enjoyable family movie that offers something for everyone.