starring Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin, Rob Delaney
screenplay by Thomas Bezucha and Maya Forbes & Wally Wolodarsky, based on the novel by Ann Leary
directed by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky
by Bill Chambers Earlier this year, I revisited 1995's Copycat, in which Sigourney Weaver plays an agoraphobic criminologist assisting the police in their hunt for a serial killer who arranges tableaux in tribute to famous murderers of the past. It's the sort of B-movie in A dress they don't make anymore, an exuberantly tasteless piece of crackerjack filmmaking that made me wistful for medium-budget, middle-class movie-movies that exist for their own sake. But, perhaps because her most iconic roles are so heroic (this is a woman neither gorillas, nor xenomorphs, nor Bill Murray himself could cow), Weaver's brand doesn't bend towards powerlessness without showing the strain. I thought then and still think that Weaver was miscast as a woman who hyperventilates into paper bags in Copycat. Similarly, her character's reluctance to admit she has a problem with alcohol in The Good House seems as much informed by pride and social stigmas as it does by certain firewalls in Weaver's persona. Hildy Good (Weaver) is a real-estate agent in Wendover, Massachusetts (actually Nova Scotia). It's a small coastal town and she worries what her neighbours think of her, especially considering word-of-mouth affects her livelihood. Maybe that's why she's had her struggles with booze, because of the pressure of maintaining a reputation. Booze, of course, never helped anybody's reputation.
Hildy is half-heartedly in recovery, having been forced into rehab by her adult daughters, a couple of castoffs from a Nancy Meyers movie about spoiled children. Wendoverites appear to expect her to fall off the wagon--indeed, to brace for it, such as the local shrink she used to babysit, Peter (Rob Delaney). Hildy befriends Rebecca (Morena Baccarin), the young-ish mother who recently purchased a property from Hildy, and from her bedroom window one evening she sees Rebecca kissing Peter, both of whom are married to other people. It's information; she doesn't know what to do with it, but it's good to know things. Paul Guilfoyle's Henry is a fellow recovering alcoholic who keeps trying to get Hildy to attend AA meetings, since that's where the best gossip is. I wondered: if the whole town is at these meetings, spilling their secrets, why is Hildy forever on the verge of becoming a pariah? Hildy's ancestors were burned at the stake, and there's a provocative imaginary line to be drawn between being accused of witchcraft and being accused of drinking too much, both of which are so damning that the trial is over before it's begun. Weaver could play the shit out of someone who recognizes that the old misogyny has adapted to new contexts to still punish women who flout the patriarchy, but The Good House rejects anything like ambivalence. It's the same old song of hitting rock bottom--here tied to an autistic child in a way that feels exploitative--and getting a second chance and stating your name and disease before God and literally sailing off into the sunset. That may be what some folks need to hear, though it isn't profound.
On the verge of posting this review, I got nervous that it might be misconstrued. To be clear, I don't think Weaver is incapable of portraying vulnerability or toxic behaviour. Roman Polanski's Death and the Maiden nudges her whole boss essence towards madness, and it's one of her best performances. But that's just it: when a film casts a star, it has to meet her halfway. If Copycat works anyway, it's because it gets that Weaver's a survivor. The quintessential end-of-TIFF gala, The Good House repeatedly finds Hildy breaking the fourth wall and addressing us directly, High Fidelity-style, and Weaver can't quite sell the wine-mom Ferris Bueller monologues she's asked to deliver in these moments. Online excerpts from Ann Leary's source novel suggest the first-person narration was much more searching on the page, which may have proved a better match for Weaver's vaguely patrician air. I don't know. What I do know is that nothing that includes blackout drinking, suicide, and the tragedy of gentrification should go down so smoothly, even if the filmmakers' sensibility is fundamentally comic. (Co-writers/co-directors Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky previously made The Polka King, and Forbes wrote for "The Larry Sanders Show".) After Hildy reveals that she's descended from witches, Donovan's "Season of the Witch" cues up on the soundtrack; I felt like a little old lady being helped across the street. For what it's worth, Weaver's frequent onscreen love interest Kevin Kline is in this, too, as a handyman who hauls garbage and fixes up boats. I guess you can only be in so many fake John Sayles movies before they finally cast you as David Strathairn. PROGRAMME: GALA PRESENTATIONS