Everyone’s Ignoring ‘The Winter House’ But This Film Deserves a Closer Look

Lili Taylor has made so many forgettable films and played so many meaningless generic roles that it's nice to see her play a real character with sensitivity and intelligence.

François Arnaud (L) Lili Taylor (R) in ‘The Winter House’ Courtesy of Choice Films

Lili Taylor is another in a long list of first-rate actors who has inexplicably eluded stardom in favor of good work in solid but overlooked films and plays that deserved more attention than they got. Now comes another one, in which she delivers her most sensitive and nuanced performance. Thus far, both audiences and critics have ignored it, but The Winter House deserves a closer look.

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THE WINTER HOUSE ★★★ (3/4 stars)
Written & directed by Keith Boynton
Starring: Lili Taylor, François Arnaud
Running time: 1 hour 39 mins.


In a perfect performance of an underwritten role, she plays Eileen Crane, a novelist grieving the death of her husband and suffering from writer’s block who rents an isolated house on a remote lake in New Hampshire to get away from it all and work on a personal memoir. Despite the lonely country ambiance and the freezing cold weather, she enjoys the beautiful scenery, the crackling wood in the fireplace, the long walks to clear her head, and the peace of mind seclusion brings.

Her irritation is visible when her reverie is interrupted by a young man named Jesse, the nervous son of the house’s owners, who claims he has no other place to go. Still, the punishing cold is daunting, and the hour is late, so she extends some hospitality and allows him to spend the night on the couch. He leaves the next morning as promised, but it’s not long before he returns, bringing presents, a gift for making scrambled eggs a special way, and a pleasing personality to keep Eileen’s loneliness at bay and her curiosity stimulated. It doesn’t take long before she knows he’s a stranger, unrelated to the owners, and riddled with inner problems to bring out her talent as a closet psychologist and enough secrets to inspire her writer’s ability to play amateur detective.

With some trepidation and several awkward failures, a cautious friendship leads to an eventual romance. As it grows, this mismatched pair of accidental lovers overcome a 15-year age difference and bring out small moment-to-moment revelations in each other that develop three-dimensional characters beneath the surface. The story switches gears when it becomes clear that Jesse is not who he says he is. He has a criminal past, he’s a recovering junkie, and his life is in danger. How the older woman files the information and the decisions she makes to face facts and ensure future happiness at the same time gives the film ballast and provides a basically slight film with an unexpected maturity.  

The pace of the film may be too slow to thrill every film fan, but writer-director Keith Boynton adds understated understanding to scenes that might seem forced under a more demonstrative guide, and he extracts two performances from his co-stars that blend warmly with mutual charisma. Lili Taylor has made so many forgettable films and played so many meaningless generic roles that it’s nice to see her play a real character with sensitivity and intelligence. It can’t be easy to keep up with an actress of such range and experience, but handsome, capable French-Canadian actor François Arnaud does a fine job as Jesse. It’s rewarding to watch them make an implausible love story plausible. Together, they define the solace we may find, against overwhelming odds, in each other, if we’re brave enough to try. 

Everyone’s Ignoring ‘The Winter House’ But This Film Deserves a Closer Look