×

Sundance Film Review: ‘The Intervention’

Three couples gather for a country weekend to help a fourth duo break up in Clea DuVall's directorial debut.

With:
Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4872078/

The Intervention” finds three couples gathered for a country weekend, where they’ve plotted to perform emergency surgery on a fourth duo’s trouble marriage. Naturally, this well-intentioned but very probably misguided effort goes awry, with everyone’s personal fault lines exposed to variably seriocomic effect. Actress Clea DuVall’s debut feature as writer-director is an ensemble piece that breaks no new ground in themes or execution, but is pleasingly accomplished on all levels. It may not be quite edgy or distinctive enough to make much of a splash in niche theatrical release, but should prove a viable home-format item.

The group of thirtysomething friends who gather at an expansive family summer residence outside Savannah, owened by Jessie (DuVall), haven’t met there for some years; life got in the way of what had been an annual tradition. But now Annie (Melanie Lynskey) has orchestrated a reunion, one with a mission as yet unknown to the two who are its intended target. The others in on the plan — though more reluctantly, having bent to Annie’s considerable will — are Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), Jessie’s girlfriend in Los Angeles; Matt (Jason Ritter), Annie’s long-term fiance; and recently single Jack (Ben Schwartz), who’s brought along an otherwise uninvited stranger in the form of his new, discomfortingly young squeeze Lola (Alia Shawkat, serving a purpose a whole lot like Meg Tilly’s in “The Big Chill”).

Jack is the most vehemently resistant to Annie’s scheme, which is a group “intervention” designed not to save the marriage of Jessie’s sister Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza), but to put it out of its misery. Though the two have three young children, they’ve long since reached that point where everything one does strikes the other as insufferable. Indeed, they’re already fighting in the car when they arrive. Ergo Annie has determined they should be urged to divorce — though once she’s had a few drinks, she isn’t the most reliable executor of her own plan. (In fact, she might require an intervention of her own.)

Popular on Variety

Once the assembled finally get down to business, Ruby and Peter aren’t at all grateful for the meddling. Furious, Peter impulsively spews a stream of invective indicting everyone else’s hypocrisy in pretending to know what’s best for anyone else’s relationship. They’ve got problems of their own they’re avoiding, not least Annie’s perpetual postponing of her wedding to passive, patient (to a point) Matt. Nor is it especially helpful that the free-spirited, apparently bisexual 22-year-old keeps hitting on Jessie, who’s had a reputation in the past for liking the young ‘uns.

While the tone does gradually shade a bit darker, DuVall never abandons humor entirely, save for a couple of climactic speeches (notably Smulder’s) that are admirable for their concision and emotional directness. “The Intervention” treads familiar terrain, yet its frequently droll dialogue, brisk narrative progress and well-drawn if not wildly deep characters consistently avoid the feel of formulaic dramedy.

An asset as a thesp for two decades now, from youthful leads (“The Faculty,” “The Slaughter Rule”) to more recent character roles on big screen (“Argo”) and small (“Heroes,” “American Horror Story”), DuVall demonstrates a deft hand guiding her cast here. All are in fine form, with Lynskey occupying the more comedic and Smulders the more straight-up dramatic ends of a fluid performance spectrum.

Basically limited to one location’s interior and grounds, “The Intervention” is smoothly crafted in all tech/design departments, though disinclined toward any bold stylistic contributions — the closest to that being a soundtrack of pleasant, somewhat interchangeable female-driven various-artist cuts and an original score by Sara Quin of Canadian duo Tegan & Sara.

Sundance Film Review: 'The Intervention'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 26, 2016. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production: A Canana presentation of a Burn Later production. (International sales: ICM Partners, Los Angeles.) Produced by Sam Slater, Paul Bernon, Sev Ohanian. Executive producers, Mel Eslyn, Clea DuVall, David Bernon.

Crew: Directed, written by Clea DuVall. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Polly Morgan; editor, Tamara Meem; music, Sara Quin; music supervisor, Rob Lowry; production designer, Lanie Faith Marie Overton; costume designer, Alex Simone; sound, Daniel Sheppard; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Gene Park; assistant director, Drew Langer; casting, Amey Rene Morris.

With: Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders.

More Film

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

  • Little Women Movie

    'Little Women,' 'Fleabag' Win USC Scripter Awards

    Greta Gerwig’s script for “Little Women” has won the USC Libraries Scripter Award for best movie adaptation and “Fleabag” has taken the television award. The winners were announced Saturday night at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. “Little Women” topped “Dark Waters,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “The Two Popes.” All but environmental drama [...]

  • Four Good Days

    'Four Good Days': Film Review

    Addiction, you could say (and I would), has become the central demon that plagues Americans. We’re addicted to everything: alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, psychotropic drugs, sugar-bomb soft drinks, processed food, video screens…you name it. In theory, addiction was made for drama, because it rips up the fabric of people’s lives, and that’s intensely dramatic. [...]

  • Netflix backed animated films “Klaus,” left,

    'Klaus,' 'I Lost My Body' Top 47th Annie Awards as Netflix Dominates

    Netflix dominated the 47th Annie Awards on Saturday, Jan. 25, picking up 19 trophies, including the top prizes of best feature (“Klaus”), best feature-independent (“I Lost My Body”), best TV/media production for preschool children (“Ask the Storybots”) and best general audience TV/media production (“BoJack Horseman”). Disney TV Animation’s “Disney Mickey Mouse” won best TV/media production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content