‘The Good House’ is better than good

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Hildy Good is one of the two primary Realtors in the fictitious New England village of Wendover, Mass. She has two daughters, one with a young family, and the other a recent art college grad trying to make it in the New York art scene. Hildy knows everyone in town; heck, she sold half of them their homes. And everyone knows her. In a town too small for secrets, Hildy has a big one: She’s an alcoholic.

Not a raging drunk, mind you, but one of those hard-to-spot closet alcoholics. She’s the type who simply can’t have just one drink. She’s the life of the party but will often drink herself to sleep at night within the confines of her own home. Fortunately, her daughters enrolled her in Alcoholics Anonymous some years ago. But as Maya Forbes’, Wally Wolodarsky’s, and Thomas Bezucha’s screenplay begins, Hildy is starting to slip off the wagon.

First, we see her enjoying a sip of wine. But wine isn’t really alcohol, Hildy explains to the audience in one of her many annoying asides. Why couldn’t Forbes, Wolodarsky, and Bezucha opted for a more standard voice-over narration? Or better yet, have Hildy explain her view on wine vs. hard liquor to another character – thereby keeping her thoughts within the context of the screenplay? But I nitpick, in what is an otherwise pleasant surprise of a picture. Adapted from Ann Leary’s 2013 novel of the same name, Forbes and Wolodarsky have directed “The Good House” – a tough film to pigeonhole. It has comedic elements, but it’s really more a drama. Not a heavy, depressing drama, given the subject matter, but a compelling one.

You see, Hildy is played by the venerable Sigourney Weaver. At an age when Hollywood has long since relegated most actresses to the ash heap of has-beens, Weaver is doing some of her best work. Years removed from her “Alien,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” and “Working Girl” triumphs, Weaver continues to crank out important and viable performances – such as this one, and the forthcoming “Call Jane” and “Master Gardener.” She’s a treat to watch, considering Hollywood has never really known what to do with her. The irony, of course, is that she can play anything – superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, drama. You name it, Sigourney Weaver nails the role.

In “The Good House,” most of the joy emanates from watching Hildy’s interactions with the townsfolk. From the talkative, gossipy Henry (Paul Guilfoyle) to the successful, approachable psychiatrist Peter (Rob Delaney), Hildy has enough backstory with each character to make her daily travels about town a delight to watch. Weaver lets us sink into the relaxed rhythm of quaint, rural New England. The most interesting of Hildy’s connections is young Rebecca, played by Brazilian actress Morena Baccarin, who is in a loveless marriage, and confides her deepest thoughts with Hildy.

Hildy is also longtime friends with Wendover’s handyman Frank. He’s played by veteran actor Kevin Kline – now teaming with Weaver for the third time. (The others were 1993’s “Dave” and the excellent 1997 drama “The Ice Storm”).  Watching these two old pros is as entertaining as enjoying Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek together in 2018’s “The Old Man and the Gun.” Weaver and Kline could practically sit on a couch and have a two-hour discussion about any old thing, and it would be a treat. Within the framework of a good screenplay, it’s even more gratifying. These two are old pros, and while Kline’s character is certainly not the focus of attention in “The Good House,” the interplay between the two is the anchor this film requires.

As “The Good House” ambles along, Hildy’s drinking problems increase. In a couple scenes, we’re relieved she makes it home in one piece, safely parking her car out front, only to learn later that her evenings continue in an embarrassing fashion as she ventures out for more partying. Since we are only told about these instances from other characters, we don’t have the “pleasure” of experiencing them ourselves. But then, neither does Hildy. And that’s the point.

Again, “The Good House” isn’t a burdensome slog through addiction, a la the 2018 Steve Carrell vehicle “Beautiful Boy.” But it’s no light comedy either. This is a serious subject matter, with the joy stemming from Weaver’s performance. It doesn’t rank with the three greatest films about alcoholism – “The Lost Weekend,” “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and “Leaving Las Vegas.”  But it isn’t far behind. And I love the twist that this time the alcoholic is not only a woman, but a mature, successful grandmother – not some twentysomething party girl.

In a promising year for motion pictures, “The Good House” positions itself as a pleasant surprise. I don’t know that it will win any awards, but it’s certainly one of my favorites. Why? Because it’s tough to pigeonhole, the screenplay stays a step ahead of me, and it surpasses my expectation. Add to that Sigourney Weaver’s best work in years, and “The Good House” is a winner.

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