From The Lost Weekend and Days of Wine and Roses through Clean and Sober, Flight and beyond, I can’t recall a serious film centered on an alcoholic that’s as bright and almost breezy as The Good House.
That’s not to say the film trivializes the serious addiction that drives the plot. It’s just that its high-end Massachusetts seaside community glows to an almost Stars Hollow degree, its problem-drama weight is tempered with rom-com elements, and the alcoholic at its center breaks the fourth wall more often than Ferris Bueller to chat with us. It’s all, at least initially, very welcoming.
The difference between Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) and Bueller, though, is that Good’s asides often reveal more than she intends. Her defensiveness, her rationalizations and her denial share space with her catty comments about her neighbors and real estate clients and her insights into the house-selling biz. She’s a career real estate agent who has been to rehab because of past events but hasn’t really adapted its lessons into her life (hence the case of wine she keeps hidden).
At least temporarily, those in her orbit have been fooled into thinking she’s doing OK — perhaps in part because some of them are dependent on her.
But then there’s Kevin Kline as Frank, who is her social opposite, not caring a whit about how he comes across. In his first scene, he’s borderline Gabby Hayes as an eccentric local guy who can fix anything. It’s to Kline’s credit that he remains engaging even when the role evolves into the romantic voice of reason. Frank and Hildy’s inevitable connection has its charms, but it’s difficult to imagine the gap in their relationship since their long-ago fling. It is, after all, a small town.
Things do get heavier in the second half, but directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky and their co-writer Thomas Bezucha manage to keep those “will she do something horrible while drunk” moments suspenseful. But open vodka in the kitchen during Thanksgiving made me wonder if Hildy’s family is as in denial as she is about her affliction. The film doesn’t make any judgments about her work itself — brokering houses for folks with big cash — but makes it a point to show her trying to help a struggling couple and their autistic son.
Hildy’s connection to her burned-as-a-witch ancestor — including a dinner-table palm read — hints that The Good House could turn into a supernatural drama. Otherwise, it just feels like a distraction or the remnants of a thread that may have been more important in the source novel (which I haven’t read).
It’s a juicy part, though, and Weaver, who I can’t recall landing a part this central in quite some time, is strong in it. But while it has a strong facade and attractive details, The Good House remains a fixer-upper.