' Cinema Romantico: The House Of Yes

Monday, November 22, 2010

The House Of Yes

It was a dark and stormy night, and I’m not just talking about the hurricane that has descended upon the eastern seaboard but the goings-on inside the well to do but unbalanced Family Pascal’s mansion where Marty (Josh Hamilton) has brought his fiancé, Lesly (Tori Spelling), home for Thanksgiving. You know, it’s funny, watching “The House Of Yes” (1997), directed by Mark Waters and adapted from Wendy MacLeod’s play, and often feeling very much like a play staged on an immaculate set, I thought about the lament that every going-home-for-Thanksgiving movie is about a dysfunctional family, never a functional one, and that flashed me back to something wise my mom once told me about why there are always so many weirdoes at the D.O.T. "Nick," she said, "everyone has to get a driver's license." Likewise, everyone, at one point or another, is going to go home for Thanksgiving.

The Family Pascal is governed by a mother (Geneviève Bujold) who is kind of a less demonstrative Lucille Bluth. Her husband vanished into the ether after JFK died 25 years ago to the day. In fact, that assassination looms large over the whole family, specifically in the only daughter, the middle child, whom everyone refers to as, uh, Jackie O. (Parker Posey), who dresses and acts like just like the real Jackie O. and not only reads about assassinations, endlessly, but sometimes likes to re-enact them, sometimes with unloaded guns, sometimes with loaded guns. "She's not insane," claims Marty, "she's ill." Either way. Marty's got his own bag of issues, particularly that in childhood he and Jackie O. were - oh man, how to put this delicately? - close. You know, close. Too close. Horror movie in rural West Virginia close. So Marty, fearing he was causing his sister’s illness, fled for New York, found Lesly and got engaged in an effort, it seems, to become normal. And, of course, sister and older brother irrevocably screwed up the youngest, Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who dropped out of school to take care of Jackie O., seriously sincere but completely clueless.

So into this muddle wades Lesly, well played, I thought, by Spelling, who at the time would have been barely removed from the stigma of “Bevery Hills 90210”, with a somewhat annoying chirp as a well intentioned but naïve young sprite, who does not take long to get up to speed on this family’s sordid and perplexing history. “Where’d you get that scar?” she asks Anthony. “Marty and Jackie would play French Revolution,” he explains, not ironically, “and they would make me be Marie Antionette.” All-righty then.

Posey is perfect here and it is difficult to imagine another actress taking this role, not just because of the look but because of the pointed, sterile voice, the way in which she makes her illness seem so elementary, how when she takes it too far it is rather clear in her own mind she can’t conceive of taking anything too far. Hamilton, a laconic, mostly unknown actor I’ve always admired, is good, too, suggesting someone ordinary on the surface and showing the cracks in that ordinary armor quite subtly. And Prinze Jr., who in recent years has become the butt of jokes, really, is surprisingly effective, though if I’d seen this at the time of its release I likely would have employed the word promising rather than surprising. Perhaps if he hadn’t aged? Ah, and so it is.

Jackie O., of course, wants Lesly gone, and suggests she has assisted in getting other girls in Marty’s life gone, too, and their mother wants Lesly gone because she threatens to send Jackie O. off the rails, though one might argue a young woman masquerading as Jackie O. is already well off the rails, and Anthony wants Lesly to stay, perhaps because she is the only woman in that frightening house who resembles normalcy and Marty seems to be leaning both ways at once. He wants a regular type life but that might be simply because he is supposed to want a regular type life and when he finds himself in a late night parlor game the likes of which you have never seen....well, this isn’t the Turkey Day movie you watch with the whole family.

Then again it might be perfect to watch on Turkey Day with the whole family. Oh, maybe the whole family won’t enjoy it superficially but considering how these Pascals all appear to be unhappy trainwrecks it’s something the whole family, after the turkey is revealed to be undercooked and your children make messes of themselves in the cranberry sauce and the uncle no one really likes keeps telling those same stories he's told for the last 22 years and it all devoloves into the annual Argument At The Dinner Table, could sit down and watch and think, gratefully, hey, at least no one got shot in the face.

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