Is Nov. 22, 1963
After a plague of bombs about dysfunctional families at Thanksgiving, you’d think the genre would be exhausted. Now there’s one more to survive. The House of Yes , based on a play by Wendy MacLeod and so statically directed by Mark Waters you not only feel confined by the proscenium but can actually sense where the camera is, is so dreary and lacking in movement, the characters never even leave the house. At least the misfits in Home for the Holidays and The Myth of Fingerprints got away from the cranberry sauce from time to time and actually fled the claustrophobia of the dining room table. The loony tunes in The House of Yes don’t look as if they even remember the last time they breathed real air or ate real food. The mother in this sick and mordant comedy-melodrama is so crazy she forgets to defrost the turkey.
The Pascal family has been ready for the freezer for 20 years, ever since Nov. 22, 1963, which was not only the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination, but also the day the family patriarch mysteriously disappeared. I don’t blame him. The mother (Genevieve Bujold) is brain-dead. Two of the children, Marty (Josh Hamilton) and Jackie-O (Parker Posey), who are twins, have conducted an incestuous love affair for years, in addition to a popular annual family parlor game in which Jackie-O dresses up like you-know-who and re-enacts the fatal events that day in Dallas for the home video camera, smearing her pink dress with blood and macaroni to represent the slain President’s splattered brains. But in this version, the one holding the gun is wearing a pillbox hat.
Now it is 1983, and Marty has escaped to get some of his sanity back. Not exactly the ideal time to bring his new girlfriend Lesly (Tori Spelling) home to meet the folks. Yet here they are, assembled like the parts of a cuckoo clock, in their beautiful dead mausoleum of a mansion in the Virginia suburbs near Washington, D.C. It’s all a gruesome collision with reality for poor Lesly, who gets insulted and ridiculed when she enters, then sexually mauled by the youngest Pascal child, Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.), who is obsessed with losing his virginity. Mom wanders the halls like Lady Macbeth, saying “I’m not sure who my children belong to-I only know Marty and Jackie-O belong to each other. She came out of my womb holding his penis in her hand.” And despite her prim black dress and pearls, Jackie-O is so insane and suicidal they all have to hide the kitchen knives when they baste the frozen turkey.
The House of Yes is supposed to be what unhinged rookie playwrights call a “black comedy,” but as Molly used to say to Fibber McGee on the radio, “T’ain’t funny, McGee.” Eventually, poor Lesly, who is in deep shock and desperately starving (nobody ever gets around to anything resembling a meal) is subjected to yet another reenactment of the Kennedy assassination, this time with real bullets, and Marty ends up dead as a mackerel on the parlor sofa. I guess the point is that incest is O.K., but it can’t lead to social acceptance. In the production notes for this sorry excuse for filmmaking, Ms. MacLeod, who wrote the original play, compares herself to Noel Coward and Harold Pinter, while director Mr. Waters describes The House of Yes as “part Gothic revenge drama, part contemporary psychological thriller, and extremely funny.” I must have missed something.
As a sendup of upper-middle-class insularity, its plot is unresolved, and its dialogue is awkward. The characters are cardboard. Nothing is sustained but disbelief. And the casting of Tori Spelling, the bug-eyed daughter of billionaire TV mogul Aaron Spelling, throws the film so far off-balance it never recovers. Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Prinze are attractive, appealing and talented, and Ms. Posey has made a career out of playing mad dilettantes to perfection. So it doesn’t make sense for the character of the outsider, the only rational and normal person in the story, to look more loopy and unhinged than the dysfunctional people around her. Does the fact that Mr. Spelling provided the financing have anything to do with this hapless miscasting? Just asking. At any rate, The House of Yes has No written all over it.
Searching for Love,
From Hong Kong comes Happy Together , a controversial entry in the Cannes and New York film festivals that is now opening a commercial run in an art house near you. Two homosexual lovers travel from Hong Kong all the way to Argentina, looking for a new start in their troubled relationship. Suddenly, on their way to picturesque Iquacu Falls near the Brazilian border, they break up in a violent argument. The more mature lover, Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), ends up in Buenos Aires working as a doorman at a tango bar and doing double-duty cooking in a Chinese restaurant to save enough money for passage back home, while the flightier, softer lover, Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) hustles Americans and ends up half-beaten to death. While they chain-smoke endless cigarettes and torture each other in small ways, a sobering portrait emerges of two people, lonely and far from home, hating each other, yet co-dependent. The title Happy Together , from a rock song, contains essential irony, since everyone is miserable.
Wong Kar-Wai, the writer-director, is known for his colorful examinations of the seedy side of the Orient after dark ( Chungking Express being the most notable success in the United States), but budget limitations and an unfamiliar terrain have somewhat thwarted his ability to get beneath the skin of Buenos Aires after midnight. (You’ll see more of this rich exotic city in the cult film Apartment Zero .) The movie shifts back and forth from grainy black-and-white to grainy color for no apparent reason. The Chinese dialogue consists largely of shouting and fighting with no points scored. Neither actor seems to have had much fun despite their tempting location-shooting. All they do is live in squalor, fight bedbugs and lice, and despise each other. It’s a desperate and pathetic view of same-sex relationships, the point being you can change your address, even your country, but not your own insecurity. A thoroughly humorless and depressing experience.
Clooney, Ross, Stritch
The week of Oct. 13 welcomes back the annual focus on New York cabaret music, with Rosemary Clooney the delicious musical centerpiece at the Rainbow and Stars, a galaxy of lesser satellites swinging below in every club and cabaret in town, and a series of concerts nightly at 6 P.M. at Town Hall celebrating the great composers and lyricists of Broadway and popular songs. On Wednesday, Oct. 15, the august old concert hall will rock with the scintillating songs of Ira Gershwin, extending beyond the collaborations with his brother George to include stellar works written with Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen.
On Oct. 16, the premises are turned over to the saucy, sophisticated lyrics of the great Dorothy Fields in a show produced and hosted by two of the most erudite specialists in the field-luscious, creamy-dreamy Mary Cleere Haran (yes, she will also sing) and Deborah Grace Wiener, author of the new book on Dorothy Fields, On the Sunny Side of the Street . These ladies know their oats and do their homework, so expect not only familiar songs like “Big Spender” and “I’m in the Mood for Love,” but obscure treasures as well, in a show that features Lucie Arnaz, Alix Korey, Marcia Lewis, jazz diva Annie Ross, the excellent singer-pianist Daryl Sherman, Broadway’s Karen Ziemba, and the indefatigable Margaret Whiting. On Friday, Oct. 17, Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz get a long-overdue salute from Billy Stritch, K.T. Sullivan, velvety-voiced chanteuse Joyce Breach and a highly-touted new jazz singer from Boston, Dane Vannatter.
And that’s not all. Saturday night’s bash, called “Saturday spectacular,” claims an eclectic guest list, ranging from suave pianist-composer Richard Rodney Bennett to red-hot mama Baby Jane Dexter. It comes to an exhausted finale on Sunday afternoon at 3 when Andrea Marcovicci hosts highlights from 50 years of Broadway musicals with the assistance of “many special surprise guests,” whatever that means. Do not ask what music can do for you. Just buy a ticket to one or all of these events and find out what you can do for music.