Welcome to Cinematical Movie Club, your weekly chance to watch great films and chat about them with fellow readers every Monday night.
There are those who like to chide the moments when theater pieces hit the big screen, and to be fair, they often have a point. At times feature films are simply too grand of a scale for a world once defined by a stage and structured sets. It was something I never truly realized until watching Woody Allen's 'Whatever Works.' Though that film wasn't a play, it felt like one -- so distinctly intimate in nature that on film it was as exciting as a flea aimlessly running through an empty gymnasium, a story too small to properly fill the confines of the screen.
But 'The House of Yes' is the exact opposite -- a film that thrives on the big screen even though it has the simplest of sets, and only a small handful of characters to discover. Rather than being a jar too big for its contents, 'Yes' nestles snugly in every film cell, the intimate nature being perversely voyeuristic and claustrophobic, exacerbating the feel of the reclusive family and their unusual lives rather than ever feeling out of place.
'Yes' begins with a shot-by-shot replica of the young Jackie (Rachael Leigh Cook) mimicking the real Jacqueline Kennedy, calmly moving from room to room with stuffy and false pretense until the moment that she enters her absent father's office. Being close to her father's things, and in a forbidden area of the house, sets Jackie off, and her calm persona crumbles away to reveal a frenetic energy as Jackie becomes manic, rushing from room to room. It's as if she's running away from the past, and all that's real, and is taking her brother Marty with her just as the film runs away from any notions of a regular, everyday family.
Caught in one house, during a hurricane, 'The House of Yes' is the perfect theatrical production for the screen. Seeing no more than the most minimal and fleeting moments outside the house, one can feel like the insanity is real, that the screen isn't a window of imagination, but rather a window into a family who doesn't know the meaning of "no." They rise and fall by their whims, and though they can thrive in the outside world with some normalcy, in that claustrophobic and drama-filled house, there's no choice but to get caught up in the dysfunctional holiday whirlwind.
A clash of thunder reveals Thanksgiving, 1983, twenty years after Kennedy's assassination. Marty (Josh Hamilton) has moved away and in his absence, Jackie's (Parker Posey) hyper obsessiveness has been internalized, bubbling out in doses as she tapes windows for a hurricane and manipulates brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) to feed her own selfish desires. Every line reveals a new revelation into the familial dynamic. Jackie feels alone and out of the loop. Anthony is easily manipulated, yet clever enough to say the right thing at the right time. Mother (Genevieve Bujold) survives by emotionally removing herself from the situation: "A person offers a little constructive criticism and a person gets lectured on the nature of things."
It's as if Ernest Hemingway was injected with uppers and locked in a room, his energy bouncing off the walls and through his fingers as he stood over his typewriter. Everyone speaks with brief, concise and lyrical statements, banter that doesn't stretch through one scene, but the entire film, beginning to end. There are no erroneous words and no flat dialogue. Each line bounces back and forth, often volleying so quickly that we have little time to really absorb the insanity of this secular household, the hurricane seeming much more powerful in the house than outside it. It's not so much like they're reading through elaborately crafted dialogue. Instead, the dysfunction feels like each word is spoken in the Pascal's special language, and in such a way that we can understand how they all get caught up in the absurdity, because we get sucked in -- to a degree -- ourselves.
The lines are also the sugar to help the perversity go down, whether we're learning that Jackie was holding Marty's penis when they were born, or that the twins have their own specially dysfunctional and inappropriate Kennedy game. There's something perfect about this family coming together for Thanksgiving, and though the Pascals are nothing like our own families, 'The House of Yes' has the slightest glimmer of truth, making it as much a fantastical journey of insanity as a reminder that no life is perfect, and buried in every closet is a skeleton or two.
The House of Yes | Parker Posey | Josh Hamilton | Movie Trailer
"We all have our secrets."
- Tori Spelling (Marty's fiance) won a Razzie nomination for her role. Was that unfair? Did she fit well as the awkwardly innocent Lesly, or should someone else have been cast, and if so, who?
- Which line is your favorite?
- Jackie seems like the master manipulator of the house, but when Anthony lights that cigarette and talks about sandwiches, it seems like he knows more than he lets on. Is Jackie really the dysfunctional figure they all try to control, or do they like her insanity, because she allows each family member to avoid responsibility for their actions?
- Part of the magic of 'The House of Yes' is that a lot remains unsaid and unclear -- how Marty feels about his relationship with his sister, what happened to their father, what happened at the end of the film. What are your theories?