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House of Yes

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: House of Yes

Starring: Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton
Director: Mark Waters
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze Jr., Genevieve Bujold, Rachael Leigh Cook

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A question that looms over movies like "Home for the Holidays" and "The Myth of Fingerprints" is, "Why would people like Claudia (Holly Hunter) and Warren (Noah Wylie) want to return to their dysfunctional families after having successfully escaped from their clutches?" Perhaps it's guilt, maybe curiosity. "Fingerprints" opens on a therapy session as Warren informs his analyst that he is returning after three years--he knows not why. Now, in "The House of Yes," the one family member who has fled the nest, Marty (Josh Hamilton). is returning to his lavish digs to introduce his new girl friend, Lesly (Tori Spelling), a waitress in a doughnut pub. He does not reappear from a sense of either guilt of curiosity. Something there is about the titled house of yes that draws him, a magnetic allure that tows back to the fold someone who has had exceptionally pleasant memories but who had nonetheless deserted because of the wildly dysfunctional atmosphere.

The house itself exudes wealth. A pillared mansion in an upscale Washington suburb, the house of yes is composed of the absolutely off-the-wall, psychotic Jackie-O (Parker Posey), in and out of mental institutions and marginally normal when she takes her medication. She is watched over by a mom who is by comparison only mildly eccentric, Mrs. Pascal (Genevieve Bujold), who keeps a vigil as well over a young man of about eighteen years, Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.). Jackie-O at once point got her fifteen minutes of fame by appearing at a party dressed as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis just after her husband was assassinated: her dress is covered with ketchup and spaghetti, just one of the various sick jokes in Mark Water's debut production.

The production, which follows the unities of time, place and action, unfolds exclusively inside the mansion on the night of a hurricane, and manifests all the stiffness of a filmed play. Adapted from a staged work by Wendy MacLeod--whose contributions to the theater include "Apocalyptic Butterflies, "The Lost Colony," and "The Shallow End"--the dark, five- person comedy often has the artificial look of a work which has simply been filmed during a live presentation. As a consequence, spontaneity is sacrificed and lines which should have been hilarious seem like words spoken by a small group rehearsing their dialogue, straining for shock value.

While much of literature deals with the problems of families too poor to enjoy the options which life can afford, "The House of Yes" considers a family which has been spoiled to the point of insanity by never having heard the word "no." Two of its members have indulged themselves for years in the universal taboo of incest. The attraction between Jackie-O and her twin brother Marty is so compelling that--the tale hints--Jackie-O will kill rather than allow any woman to stand in the way of her passion for her brother. As their mom happily announces to the Thanksgiving guest, "Marty and Jackie belong to each other...she was holding Marty's penis when they come out of the womb."

This wacky story, which could be considered by some to evoke the glittery ambiance of Noel Coward overlaid by the menace of Harold Pinter--is actually closer in genre to the writer Arthur Kopit's play, "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad." The tension comes from the baiting of Marty's innocent, Pennsylvania- raised girl friend Lesly (Tori Spelling) by the sophisticated but quite loony and homicidal Jackie-O. As you might expect, Lesly is virtually eaten alive in this mad mad household, while the film gleefully flashes back to expose glimpses of Jackie-O imitating Jackie O., then cross-cut with scenes of the real Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis giving a televised tour of the White House. (Some of these actual black-and-white clips from the sixties seem to us nowadays as unintentionally absurdist comedy.)

"The House of Yes" is, then, decidedly offbeat comedy played out by performers who appear to know one another quite well and to be having a grand time duplicating patterns of sheer dementia. Genevieve Bujold is made up to resemble a crone, a mother-in-law from hell who is as determined as her off-the-wall daughter to keep the family intact and free from the influence of normal outsiders. Obviously not for every taste, "The House of Yes" scores high for originality and gleeful bad taste, but is limited by its overall look of artificial staging.

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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