Synopsis: A wry New England realtor’s compartmentalized life begins to unravel as she rekindles a romance with her old high-school flame and becomes dangerously entwined in one person’s reckless behavior.
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin, Rob Delaney
Director: Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: Sigourney Weaver is one of our great actresses and undoubtedly one that should have an Oscar on her mantle by now. For her blistering work in Aliens, the 1986 sequel to her 1979 career-changing breakout Alien, she received the first of her Best Actress nominations for taking her lone survivor part up another level, pairing a fully-realized dramatic role with an action heroine. Two years later, her next nomination for Gorillas in the Mist gave viewers the opportunity to get to know the work of a primatologist who wasn’t afraid to be disliked for conserving the mountain gorillas she felt compelled to protect. That same year, she easily could have walked away with Best Supporting Actress for her wicked turn as the boss from hell in Working Girl. She might have taken it if she had not been nominated for Best Actress.
Throughout her career, Weaver has been a dependable presence and, more importantly, a game contributor to whatever project she signs onto. That’s allowed her to work in multiple genres with many directors that have used her well. She’s even at the point of making cameo appearances and receiving the rapturous reception that indicates the level of appreciation the movie-going public has for her. When the time is right, and the role is just so, you get the feeling that her awards run will be a swift victory.
I’m not sure how much The Good House was intended to be positioned to get Weaver into the race, but this will not get her over the finish line. Based on Ann Leary’s 2013 bestseller, the film was initially set up to star Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro. I remember this announcement well because I tracked down the book and had it on my bookshelf for a few years until Streep dropped out and the project fell silent. With Weaver recruited to star alongside her previous two-time co-star Kevin Kline, the New England seriocomedy fell into the hands of directors Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky, who had directed films separately before but never together.
That individuality of style becomes skittishly apparent after a breezy opening suggesting The Good House might be a charming bit of matinee fun, especially for fans of Weaver and Kline. The setting is picturesque, the script by Thomas Bezucha (Let Him Go) and the directors has a crackle to it, and the faint suggestion of the supernatural is enough to draw you in quickly. Weaver is Hildy Good, the top real estate agent in her little hamlet, providing for herself, often supporting her two adult children, and staying abreast of all the goings on (i.e., gossip) in town. If someone is moving out, she knows why and she has the scoop on any newcomers seeking the perfect place to call home.
Sharing office space with a therapist (Rob Delaney, Home Sweet Home Alone) who is considering switching gears to a busier metropolis, Hildy has a prospective new listing to focus on and a potential new friend in an unhappily married housewife (Morena Baccarin, Last Looks) who has only recently arrived. Then there’s Frank Getchell (Kline, The Starling), a jack-of-all-trades handyman and former flame who lives close by and might still hold the same brand of blazing torch Hildy has been secretly keeping for him. Plus, Hildy has a gift for mind-reading, a talent she’s happy to oblige when asked to bring out at dinner parties.
All of this presentation of normalcy is a glazed veneer for what’s underneath the surface of Hildy’s carefully structured life, and it’s peeking below this shell where audiences should find the good stuff in The Good House. Instead, it’s where the most significant weaknesses lie. That’s when we notice Weaver working furiously to drum up cohesion with the actors assigned to play her ex-husband and two daughters. There’s no interplay to suggest any of these people have ever met, let alone were married or were a parent to the actresses assigned as their children.
This large discrepancy becomes key when more of the plot is revealed, including Hildy’s alcoholism. The film shifts from Hildy trying to keep her life in line to Hildy literally trying to say within the lines of the road. While Sigourney Weaver (Copycat) has perhaps one of the cinema’s most fantastic takes to the camera during an intervention that becomes more about the people intervening than anything, the shift in tone is so jarring and breaks the tranquil spell we were under that the movie never recovers. Not even with the sweet romance between Hildy and Frank and certainly not in the film’s latter half when infidelity, blackout drinking, and townspeople with moods that change on dime start to overwhelm Weaver’s strong performance.
Unfortunately, Forbes and Wolodarsky couldn’t tighten all this up more; there are about five extraneous characters for every one we want to invest time in. There’s genuinely something living in The Good House at the beginning I wanted to see more of. Weaver is always worth the effort, and it’s never a bad day at the movies when Kline is playing it free and easy. Their scenes together are by far the best, even though the script has Weaver hysterically (embarrassingly?) telling a pot-smoking Kline to “put down that jazz cabbage.” At least we won’t have to wait long for more Weaver; she’ll be seen soon in Avatar: The Way of Water and Call Jane.