Wendy MacLeod’s legit black comedy is expertly translated to the screen by adapter-director Mark Waters in “The House of Yes.” Sophisticated urban auds should say yes to this wittily perverse, Gothic family conceit, and a smashing role for Parker Posey nudges her a few steps closer to stardom. Miramax snapped up rights to the pic within hours of its debut screening for just under $ 2 million.
It’s a classic dark and stormy night as Marty Pascal (Josh Hamilton) grimly drives his chirpsome donut-shop waitress fiancee, Lesly (Tori Spelling), from NYC to his family’s upstate mansion. He’s dreading this reunion — indeed, script’s weakest link is the idea that he agreed to the trip at all — and cross-cut preparations among the family members suggest good reason. Mrs. Pascal (Genevieve Bujold) is an elegant yet humorlessly frank matriarch whose personality-defining view on motherhood’s responsibilities is, “People ‘raise’ cattle — children just happen.” Dad has long since fled. Younger brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a fairly dim bulb and recent dropout. But the main event here is Marty’s recently de-institutionalized twin (Posey), who goes by the name Jackie-O and has a Camelot/assassination fixation to go with it.
Jackie-O screams, then laughs hysterically, when introduced to Lesly — this was not the reunion she had in mind. But even a fiancee won’t stand in the way of her reigniting a long-running (and not-so-long-retired) incestuous involvement with Marty. To that end, she plants romantic thoughts aboutthe interloper in gullible Anthony’s head. For his part, Marty has every intention of clinging to Lesly’s extreme “normalcy” as salvation from this sick clan. But old habits die hard.
MacLeod’s centerpiece (preserved in the helmer’s faithful screenplay) reprises the twins’ adolescent specialty act: a mock slo-moimitation, complete with pink Chanel ensemble and gun, of the famous Zapruder footage. Playing out this fatal historical moment, needless to say, does not improve chances for collective Pascal family well-being.
Staging-wise, Waters might have made even more of the jet-black humor in these climactic segs, but auds are likely to find them conceptually quite [7moutre[22;27m enough. Aside from a few unnecessarily earnest moments (between Marty and Lesly), plus one confused scene transition early on, he manages to open up the text while maintaining its perilous mix of arch wit, pathos and suspense.
Casting Spelling as the fiancee was an inspired stroke, as auds already associate her with a certain cluelessness — but she’s quite good, as Lesly gradually reveals a surprising determination beneath her squarer-than-square surface. While Bujold’s comic chops are a bit rusty, she hits the right note of hauteur and fierce (if warped) maternal protectiveness. Given less colorful roles, Hamilton and Prinze are both acceptable, if a bit bland.
But pic belongs to Posey, whose perpetual air of decadent knowingness finds a perfect outlet here. Jackie-O has a brilliant wit that can turn cruel on a dime , and the performer’s delivery is ideal. More impressive yet is her ability to instill a barely suppressed (when suppressed at all) hysteria in terms both frightening and helpless. The role might easily have turned into a cartoon monster in other hands, but succeeds on several levels here.
Well-paced package could have pushed Mike Spiller’s competent lensing toward greater stylishness without endangering overall tonal balance. Best visual asset is Patrick Sherman’s production design for the Pascal manse, which conveys an apt, slightly out-of-time opulence. Jeff Rona’s fairly conventional suspense music doesn’t quite match the material’s idiosyncrasy, but serves well enough. Original play, which premiered at the Yale Rep, was a long-running hit at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, faring less well in subsequent legit productions around the country.