Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The House of Tomorrow’

Asa Butterfield and Alex Wolff in ‘The House of Tomorrow’

Buckminster ‘Bucky’ Fuller was a futurist, deep thinker and MENSA president perhaps best known for popularizing the geodesic dome and designing the dymaxion map. This gnomic septuagenarian, accoutered in conservative suits and bottle-thick glasses, became something of a counterculture hero during the 1960s, his theories influencing such luminaries as composer John Cage, Merry Prankster and ‘Whole Earth Catalog’ editor Stewart Brand, and ‘agnostic mystic’ Robert Anton Wilson.

Fuller died in 1983 and his work has since largely been forgotten, but writer-director Peter Livolsi’s The House of Tomorrow (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 25) suggests there might still be a future for the late polymath. Though the film is unlikely to return Bucky to his former cultural prominence, it’s an admirable attempt to make his 20thcentury futurism relevant in the 21st.

Josephine Prendergast (Ellen Burstyn, who also served as the film’s executive producer) is a Fuller acolyte of long-standing who lives in ‘The House of Tomorrow,’ a Bucky-designed geodesic dome in North Branch, Minnesota. In addition to safeguarding her hero’s legacy, she’s also raising teenage grandson Sebastian (Asa Butterfield), a socially inept youngster being groomed to continue her work.

A church youth group tour of the dome introduces Sebastian to Jared (Alex Wolff, most recently seen as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Patriots Day), a green-haired rabble-rouser rebelling against white bread dad Alan (The Founder’s Nick Offerman, bringing a welcome Fred Willard vibe to his performance). A serious medical condition fuels Jared’s ‘live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse’s approach to life.


Soon enough, Jared wins over the impressionable and open-minded Sebastian, converting him to punk rock and convincing him to steal a bass guitar so that the two of them can start their own band, The Rash. Will dad Alan allow them to play at the upcoming church talent show, or will The Rash have to break out at another venue?

As much as I dislike the term ‘feel-good movie,’ it’s an apt description for The House of Tomorrow. There’s adversity for each character to overcome — Josephine must accept that her grandson is no longer a child, Sebastian must learn his beloved nana is holding him back from “a life of constant experiment and risk,” and Jared must realize that he can’t let his health issues determine his future — and overcome it they do, though what comes after the credit crawl doesn’t seem likely to be entirely neat and tidy.

Like Sebastian, I was also a sheltered nerd saved by punk, and the film includes a number of songs that soundtracked my youth, including Stiff Little Fingers’ s “Alternative Ulster,” The Germs’s “We Must Bleed,” Wreckless Eric’s “I Wish It Would Rain,” and Richard Hell and the Voidoid’s “Blank Generation.” The oldies are nicely balanced by Rob Simonsen’s  score, which blends gentle classical motifs with retro-futurist electronica.

Needless to say, I’m probably not the only old punk who’ll get a kick out of this charming and quirky feature – but whether you’re young, old, or somewhere in between you’ll likely leave The House of Tomorrow feeling warm, fuzzy, and ever so slightly hopeful. Perhaps Bucky Fuller’s work isn’t done after all.