The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 65.0°F | Fair

Film Review: The House of Yes -- Proof that money doesn't bring happiness -- or sanity

The House of Yes

Directed by Mark Waters.

Starring Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze Jr., Genevive Bujold, and Rachael Leigh Cook.

Written by Wendy MacLeod (play) and Mark Waters.

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Chekhov once said, "If there is a gun on the wall in act one, in act three it should fire." The technique is employed in The House of Yes, but age has made the rule so commonplace that when we see the gun on the wall, we're so sure of what will happen that we're left hoping they'll just fire the gun and be done with it. And be prepared to feel this way more than once because the The House of Yes is a high-concept black comedy, where the characters are not really characters and everything serves to propel the plot towards the conclusion which is simultaneously obvious and absurd.

This is a pity, because there is some interesting stuff in The House of Yes. The House of Yes is a big and opulent mansion in an unspecified Washington, D.C. suburb. On the day of John F. Kennedy's assassination, Mr. Pascal, the head of the household, suddenly disappeared, leaving behind his weird family.

Twenty years later, the family had become much weirder. Younger brother Anthony dropped out of a "very prestigious school" for an unknown-to-him reason and spends days doing he-knows-not-what. Older brother Marty desperately attempts to escape from the smothering influence of the family and goes to study in New York. His sister is recently back from the mental hospital and answers to the name Jackie-O. Mrs. Pascal takes care of her daughter, which mostly involves making sure Jackie-O doesn't get her hands on the kitchen knives.

Then Marty comes back home for Thanksgiving, bringing his fiancee Lesly, and all the hell breaks loose.

The movie is adapted from the stage play, and it shows. All the action is confined to the titular house and feels staged, and the dialogue feels scripted. It's left for the actors to make real characters from the sketchy material they are given, and most of them fail. Neither Marty nor Anthony is interesting to watch, and Mrs. Pascal has too little screen time. The less said about Tori Spelling, who plays Lesly, the better. This leaves Jackie-O. Played by Parker Posey (winner of the special recognition award this year at Sundance Film Festival), she is a marvel. Jackie-O is simultaneously beautiful, cool, smart, hard as nails, very fragile, quite glamorous, sexy, totally crazy, and very much sane. She can switch moods in an instant and turn her performance on a dime (which, by the way, can also be said about the marvelous music score).

Every second she is on screen, the movie is a joy to watch. But when she is not, the spark is lost, and there is nothing much left - the subtext about the insulated world of the rich and powerful is not interesting enough by itself, and for an hour and a half long movie, this one feels like a long sit.

The audience is supposed to identify with Lesly: she's an outsider to the family, initially attracted to the privileged world where the word "no" is unheard of, but later repulsed by what lurks beneath the surface. But Spelling's Lesly comes across as an unstable neurotic, perhaps the least normal person on screen, making identification with her impossible. It's Jackie-O who grabs our attention, and maybe that's why she is the one with whom it is easy to identify. So, in the end it is Lesly who escapes the confines of the House of Yes, but in another sense it's Jackie-O who escapes the confines of The House Of Yes.