The Women’s House of Detention in New York’s Greenwich Village, an urban prison that did a brisk business locking up hookers, was torn down years ago, the land raked and planted to create the verdant community garden that blooms today. But the nostalgic memory of a lovably raggedy Village in Manhattan’s roughrider 1970s colors House of D, an overly picaresque first feature written and directed by David Duchovny, who also co-stars. The former X-Filer is himself a kind of Davey From the Block who grew up within littering distance of the landmark slammer, and he fills his coming-of-age melodrama, told in flashback, with purple flights of raised-in-the-hood fancy — the script is more of a florid novella than a cinematic drama.
Duchovny plays Tom Warshaw, an expat artist living in Paris married to a French beauty and father to a 13-year-old son. The adult Tom looks back to the 13-year-old boy he himself once was (played with sincerity by Hearts in Atlantis‘ Anton Yelchin), then living with an emotionally unstable mother (Téa Leoni), hanging around with his best friend (more on him in a moment), and turning for comfort to the tough wisdom offered by a nameless inmate (singer Erykah Badu) through a prison window.
Tom’s friend in House of D, I squirm to report, is a janitor named Pappass, self-described (in the movie’s pre-PC 1970s lingo) as retarded. The friend, I cringe to explain, is played by Robin Williams, who jokes and cries while wearing prosthetic teeth that shape his mouth into a rictus smile out of a Wallace & Gromit cartoon. This information is offered for the benefit of those wagering which version of the Williams persona appears: It’s the soppy-simpleton one.