Friday October 10, 1997
"Excuse me," Mrs. Pascal (Genevieve Bujold) tells her assembled children as they await Thanksgiving dinner at the family home in Washington, D.C. "I'm going to go baste the turkey and hide the kitchen knives."
Things are getting a little dicey at Chez Pascal, the setting of Mark Waters' "The House of Yes." More-than-unstable daughter Jackie-O (Parker Posey) is back in her pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat, still lusts after her twin brother, Marty (Josh Hamilton), and is scheming to get Marty's fiancee Lesly (a surprisingly capable Tori Spelling) out of the house, perhaps feet first. Brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is maneuvering Lesly into bed, while Jackie and Marty perform their erotic reenactment of the Kennedy assassination downstairs in the living room. Mom, looking like a funereal raisin, is in deep denial. Imagine "You Can't Take It With You" as envisioned by Chas. Addams (or Charles Busch).
To say that there's been a paucity of good writing in movies lately would be stating the painfully obvious, but it must be said. But having said it, and having seen "House of Yes," one realizes that good writing is not everything. In addition to its terrifically bratty performance by the epically bratty Posey, "House of Yes" contains some of the smarter (and smarter-assed) writing of the year. Kaufman and Hart could get laughs caricaturing the American family (everyone, after all, has their eccentric relative) and Addams was really doing the same thing with Gomez and Morticia. But unless incest between twins has gained a popularity I'm unaware of, the situation in the Pascal home is too unorthodox to make any common connections.
That said, "House of Yes" has some very funny moments (Posey's delivery being well-suited to the Waters-MacLeod material) and almost inadvertently lampoons our national Kennedy fascination. Dad, it seems, left Mom on the night of Nov. 22, 1963 (the film takes place exactly 20 years later), and this convergence of events is blamed for the family's deep-rooted dementia--if not its central fixation ("When Jackie was born, her hand was holding Marty's penis," Mrs. Pascal says solemnly).
All this is absurdist in its nature, but the film also wants to provide us with comedy of the high, low, black and baggy-pants variety as in this exchange between Jackie-O and the ditsy Lesly:
"Would you like a glass of Liebfraumilch?"
"No, I'll just have a glass of wine."
"It is wine."
"Oh. I don't speak French."
All of which is fine, but the lack of stylistic focus makes us less than willing to engage the wackier aspects of the Pascal chronicles. "I can't believe you guys," says the exasperated Lesly. No, and for all the snappy gags, that's our problem, too.
The House of Yes, 1997. R for vulgarity and adult situations. A Miramax film. Directed by Mark Waters. Adapted for the screen by Mark Waters. Based on a stage play by Wendy MacLeod. Produced by Beau Flynn and Stefan Simchowitz. Executive Producer Robert Berger. Director of Photography, Mike Spiller. Editor, Pamela Martin. Costume designer, Edi Giguere. Music by Rolfe Kent. Production designer, Patrick Sherman. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. Parker Posey as Jackie-O. Josh Hamilton as Marty. Tori Spelling as Lesly. Freddie Prinze Jr. as Anthony. Genevieve Bujold as Mrs. Pascal.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times