From the moment Sigourney Weaver appeared in The Good House as Hildy Good, the top real estate broker of the fictional Massachusetts town of Wendover, who wears smart blazers and expertly extols the selling points of seaside life, I was sure I had found a new favorite film. It may sound strange—and trust me, I can hardly believe it’s true myself—but for whatever reason, Hollywood isn’t churning out movies about older women in sleepy coastal towns with complicated lives and endless ambition. Go figure.
So, as someone who was born with a gene that causes them to obsess over the inner lives of women characters over the age of 45 (a trait known in most scientific circles as “homosexuality” or just “having good taste”), I was in my element. I’m also a person of Massachusetts experience, having spent a great deal of the last five years all over the state. Therefore, it’s just simple math that I should enjoy any film that gives Weaver the chance to tell prospective homebuyers, “I could get you a wicked good price for it.”
But The Good House, which was adapted from Ann Leary’s 2013 novel of the same name, is by no means a predictable comfort. Nor does it ever allow its audience to be so naive as to think they’ll guess how Hildy’s story will play out. By that measure alone, it’s impressive. What may look like the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation actually aims to go much deeper, probing into the intricacies of aging, love, and desire of all kinds. Think (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) Nights in Rodanthe meets Serenity.
And that would be fascinating—it should be—if it weren’t for The Good House’s confusing desire to present and market itself as a rom-com. And not just any rom-com, but one that’s celebrated as the second onscreen reunion between Weaver and Kevin Kline, who starred together in 1993’s Dave and again in 1997’s The Ice Storm. Except Sigourney and Kline’s third outing is fundamentally not a rom-com. It’s also not a drama. Nor is it a straight comedy.
In fact, it bounces between genres at such a whiplash pace that its flightiness makes it difficult to enjoy, let alone nail down. Seeing a film that refuses to fall into the tropes of genre fare can sometimes be a pleasant surprise, but The Good House does a major disservice to the very real battles Hildy faces by struggling to decide what it wants to say. In turn, it makes what could be a well-drawn character into a silly caricature, and The Good House into a dull film.
“I need a good year.” That’s what Hildy tells herself after her youngest daughter calls to inform her of a raise in the rent of her already-overpriced Brooklyn apartment. Hildy pays for it, as she has with all of her family’s extravagant expenses. She even pays alimony to her ex-husband, despite the fact that he left her to marry a man. On top of it all, her former assistant, Wendy (Kathryn Erbe), left Hildy’s brokerage to open one of her own, taking a sizable chunk of Hildy’s clients with her.
All of this stress has driven Hildy back to her favorite vice: a glass of wine. Or a bottle or two, just to take the edge off. The only problem is that Hildy is 18 months out of a rehab facility, which she voluntarily checked into after her family staged an intervention. She downplays her drinking, justifying it in the way many alcoholics do: she doesn’t drink before 5 p.m., she doesn’t binge drink, and she doesn’t drink alone—she’s got her two dogs to keep her company.
At first, Hildy’s alcoholism seems functional. She manages to be on time for showings and she has no problem turning down a drink at parties. But when Rebecca (Morena Baccarin), one of Wendover’s newest residents, shows up unannounced at Hildy’s house just as she’s about to crack a bottle of wine, Hildy begins to slip. She and Rebecca gossip and clink their glasses together a couple times a week, and it’s not long before Hildy has the chutzpah to sneak vodka into her virgin Bloody Mary at Thanksgiving dinner and drive drunk on her way home.
Trying to guide her back onto the path of sobriety is Frank Getchell (Kline), the kooky town contractor Hildy has known and flirted with for decades. When Hildy makes a big sale that requires Frank’s company to fix up the house before the new owners move in, he comes back into her life, already able to tell she’s fallen off the wagon. But when Frank is around, Hildy doesn’t feel tempted.
People who work a program or know anything about being a recovering alcoholic can tell you that replacing one vice with another, as Hildy is doing by subbing merlot for a man, is an almost certain path to destruction. Unfortunately, The Good House is all too comfortable forgetting that until it’s convenient, letting Hildy and Frank shack up with no signs of Hildy’s addiction anywhere to be found, not even lurking in the shadows of their blossoming love. The charming alcoholic saved by the gruff bricklayer: a tale as old as time!
When things do come crashing down, all of The Good House’s poorly layered subplots ram into one another headfirst. Suddenly, the audience is forced to care about all of the minor characters the film has been poorly juggling for the last hour or so. And in its final 30 minutes, the movie makes such a gobsmacking narrative turn that I almost became convinced I had missed anywhere from 15 to 50 major plot points.
I wish I meant it as a compliment when I say that the climax of The Good House is something you have to see to believe, or even an attempt to applaud its bold tonal heel turn. Really, it’s just a way to make sense of one of the strangest and most convoluted endings of any film this year. And that’s a real pity, because so much of what comes before it is genuinely striking, largely due to Weaver’s outstanding performance.
“In its final 30 minutes, the movie makes such a gobsmacking narrative turn that I almost became convinced I had missed anywhere from 15 to 50 major plot points.”
She manages to elevate The Good House beyond its confused screenplay, even as its writers spend the entire runtime trying to break the film out of its book club-ready source material. This movie might have all the trappings of a Lifetime network drama, but Weaver still goes for broke, tapping into the well of pain behind Hildy’s decisions and disease. And yet, for all of Weaver’s hard work—especially in that bewildering climax—the film betrays her subtleties by giving Hildy a horribly predictable ending.
Still, it’s hard not to take note of the film’s rarity. How often do women over the age of 65 get the chance to play complicated, hard-nosed characters like this? What’s more, how often does that same age bracket get to be unabashedly horny onscreen? With the great Nancy Meyers all but hanging up her hat, there’s been a dearth of these kinds of roles available for older actors. No matter how muddled a screenplay might be, it’s gratifying to see Hollywood remember that older people exist, and not just to play grandparents or politicians.
The Good House might not be a thoughtful film about the very real and nuanced issue of substance abuse, but it is a wild movie filled with incomprehensible choices. So at least it’s a fantastic dinner party conversation starter! Sometimes, that’s enough to make you stop lamenting that there’s a great film hidden somewhere here, and instead accept the extremely mediocre Hallmark knockoff you got instead. What a shame—this house had some damn good bones.
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