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Ball in the House (2001)

A troubled 17-year-old struggles to adjust to life after rehab.


Tanya Wexler


Matthew Swan

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2 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jonathan Tucker ... JJ
Jennifer Tilly ... Aunt Dot
David Strathairn ... Dr. Charlie
Dan Moran ... Bull
Deirdre O'Connell ... Phyllis
Ethan Embry ... Bobby
Nathan Kiley Nathan Kiley ... Benji
Aleksa Palladino ... Lizzie
Larry Neumann Jr. ... Uncle Ernie
Greg Sandquist Greg Sandquist ... Officer Waters (as Gregory Sandquist)
Eddie Bo Smith Jr. Eddie Bo Smith Jr. ... Recruiting Officer
Amy Zimmerman Amy Zimmerman ... Anchorwoman Cindi
Larry Nash Larry Nash ... Anchorman Bob
Jonah Lisa Dyer Jonah Lisa Dyer ... AA Woman (as Jonah Lisa Marsh)
Stephen J. Rose Stephen J. Rose ... AA Man (as Stephen Rose)


Locked away in a court-ordered drug rehab for six months, fragilely sober JJ White is finally back home, but with family and friends still financially stung from his drug-induced escapades, reactions are mixed and extreme over his return. Most crucial to his maintained recovery, however, is Aunt Dot's new $75,000 life insurance policy drawn up against JJ having a fatal relapse before his eighteenth birthday. With the temptation of money before them, wheels turn, loyalties shift, and clandestine alliances form to ensure that JJ and his new-found sobriety have a short lifespan. Written by statmanjeff

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Misery Loves Family. See more »


Drama | Comedy

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language, drug and alcohol content, and a scene of sexuality | See all certifications »


Official Sites:

Official site





Release Date:

June 2002 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Relative Evil See more »

Filming Locations:

Chicago, Illinois, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


| (Ontario)

Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital | SDDS


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Did You Know?


[first lines]
JJ: I've never been so drunk I couldn't drive. I've been so drunk I couldn't climb stairs; I've been so drunk I couldn't get my fly open and instead I tried to pee down my leg through the cuff; but, I've always been able to drive home afterwards. So, I'm pretty cooked... but it's a freeway. Who can fuck up a freeway? I mean you get on the ramp and off you go. But, then, the world's full of assholes and, sure enough, about six miles from my home I net one. He's driving north on the ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

The Filmmakers Would Like to Thank... John Swan, who was the smartest man in the world See more »


Performed by Shake the Faith
Written by Dave Aragon & Kenny Kweens
Published by Red Engine Music
Courtesy of Master Source
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User Reviews

Away from the audience...But still alive
4 June 2005 | by jpschapiraSee all my reviews

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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