Punk rock as a rite of passage has been its own proud little cinematic subgenre for so long now that there’s a sort of cozy déjà vu in watching The House of Tomorrow — a charming if not exactly crucial coming-of-age dramedy about the freedom to be found in three chords.
Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Ender’s Game) is Sebastian Prendergast, an awkward, studious boy living with his grandmother-guardian (Ellen Burstyn) in a geodesic dome built by famed 20th-century futurist Buckminster Fuller. Josephine, a devoted former friend and disciple of the man she fondly calls Bucky, still carries the flame nearly 40 years after his death by following his high-minded principles to the letter and zealously molding her grandson in his image. Sebastian obeys, partly because he’s a good kid, and partly because he doesn’t realize there’s any other option; his parents are dead, and all he’s ever known is the life she’s shown him.
One of his few exposures to the outside world comes from the open-house events they occasionally offer to showcase Fuller’s signature design — the list of tourist hotspots in North Branch, Minnesota, seems like a short one — which is how he meets Jared (Patriots Day’s Alex Wolff) and Meredith (Maude Apatow).
Their dad, Alan (an understated Nick Offerman, minus his proud-walrus Parks and Rec mustache), is leading a Lutheran youth group and has dragged along his own reluctant teenagers; when Sebastian confesses in a moment of fateful bonding that his entire musical exposure so far has been confined to a few classical albums and a tape of whale sounds, a bored Jared hands over his headphones and cranks up the Germs’ “We Must Bleed.”
With his chipped black nail polish, permanent scowl, and hair streaked Garbage Pail Kid green, Jared doesn’t seem like he would need to make a new friend who talks like Siri’s robot brother and has never tasted beer, let alone a soda. (Even a grilled cheese sandwich — at least one not made from cashew mozzarella and sprouted rye — nearly blows Sebastian’s mind).
He has his own secrets though, and so do most of the characters in Tomorrow; first-time writer-director Peter Livolsi unfurls them with a sensitivity that defies the blaring soundtrack in his engaging if sometimes too-on-the-nose adaptation of Peter Bognanni’s 2010 novel. Like punk itself, the notes he hits here will probably sound a lot fresher to a kid who’s never heard them before. For everyone else it’s more like a rerun, but a sweet one. B