Film Review: ‘Little Pink House’

Catherine Keener's quiet, world-weary authority is an asset in this inconsistent but heartfelt account of the controversial Kelo v. City of New London case

Courtney Moorehead Balaker
Catherine Keener, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Callum Keith Rennie
Release Date:
Apr 20, 2018

1 hour 39 minutes

Official Site: http://littlepinkhousemovie.com/

As the thorny matter of eminent domain — the power of the government to seize private property for debatably public use — continues to flare up in American headlines, Courtney Moorehead Balaker’s “Little Pink House” arrives on screens as an earnest, adamant statement of opposition. Revisiting the Supreme Court’s famously contentious decision in the 2005 case of Kelo vs. City of New London, which ruled against a Connecticut homeowner standing her ground in the face of redevelopment by the Pfizer Corporation, Balaker’s heartfelt film holds attention as a straightforward account of a complicated case, and benefits from the intelligent, careworn presence of Catherine Keener as its human anchor amid all the procedural to-and-fro. If the story’s political and personal nuances have been a bit flattened in Balaker’s script, keeping proceedings in a movie-of-the-week register, this “Little Pink House” nonetheless retains what property developers would call good bones.

As it stands, the film’s approach hovers halfway between a conscientious community mosaic — of the type John Sayles excelled in at his peak — and a more linear issue drama of the “A Civil Action” variety, though it lack the specificity of character and process, respectively, that marks the best films in either subgenre. It’s at its most affecting when its focus is most domestic, charting cumulative strains and stresses on the life of Susette Kelo (Keener), the unassuming paramedic who reluctantly became a people’s champion as she fought city hall and beyond to save her modest waterside house in the working-class town of New London, Connecticut.

Set in 1997, a somewhat rushed, disjointed opening reel establishes Susette’s backstory in slightly squeezed shorthand: We’re shown her walking out on her second husband, resettling in New London and buying and renovating the dilapidated cottage that would become the brightly colored symbolic center of a cause célèbre. Confusingly, the pre-credit sequence places undue emphasis on a subsequently undeveloped reunion with former schoolmate Paulette (Barbara Tyson) — later a fellow victim in the eminent domain battle — that feels like a curtailed remnant from previous script drafts. This grassroots drama is promising, though structurally, “Little Pink House” finds a smoother groove when the wheels start turning in local politicos’ plans to sell the prime strip of land on which Susette’s house stands to Pfizer, then high on the first wave of Viagra marketing.

As the development team’s chief lobbyist Charlotte Wells — a thinly fictionalized version of former Connecticut College president Claire Gaudiani — Jeanne Tripplehorn is rather thanklessly charged with embodying the unremitting, corporation-first mentality of eminent domain at its most capitalist and opportunistic. Permanently clothed in power suits and pearls, her speech peppered with contrived French phrases, she’s a venal cartoon villain who doesn’t quite exist in the same world as Susette and her salt-of-the-earth neighbors. That may well be the point and principle of the script as the two women go head-to-head, though there’s a jarring inconsistency in between the Hollywood-ized dramatization of the higher-ups’ interactions (“We’re getting hammered in the press!” one bigwig exclaims, all but puffing on a cigar as he does so) and the lower-key realism of the New London residents’ struggle.

Still, it’s rousing where it needs to be, as young, impassioned Institute for Justice lawyer Scott Bullock (Giacomo Baessato) takes Susette’s case all the way to the top. Meanwhile, if the buoyant outcome you’d expect in a fictional legal drama of this nature is unavoidably twisted by the reality of the Supreme Court outcome, it’s all the more poignant for that disruption. That the Court justices taking Kelo’s side in the final ruling were largely on the right rather than the left is an interesting irony that Balaker’s liberal-minded film doesn’t address as sharply as it might; with President Donald Trump having placed himself on the side of eminent domain, however, “Little Pink House” is unlikely to be the last conflict-riven drama we see on this subject in years to come.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Little Pink House'

Reviewed online, Las Palmas, Spain, April 18, 2018. (In Santa Barbara Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

Production: (U.S.-Canada) A Dada Films release of a Korchula Prods production in association with Brightlight Pictures. (International sales: Film Mode Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Producers: Ted Balaker, Joel Soisson, Courtney Moorehead Balaker, Arielle Boisvert. Executive producers: Jeff Benedict, Shawn Williamson, Melanie Miller. Co-producers: Soojin Chung, John Kramer.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Courtney Moorehead Balaker, adapted from the book "Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage" by Jeff Benedict. Camera (color): Alexandre Lehmann. Editor: Soojin Chung. Music: Scott McRae, Ryan Rapsys.

With: Catherine Keener, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Callum Keith Rennie, Giacomo Baessato, Colin Cunningham, Jerry Wasserman, Aaron Douglas, Rob Labelle, Garry Chalk, Barbara Tyson.

More Film

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

  • Jonathan Van NessLos Angeles Beautycon, Portrait

    Jonathan Van Ness Reveals HIV Diagnosis, Former Drug Addiction

    “Queer Eye’s” Jonathan Van Ness is getting vulnerable in his new memoir “Over the Top.” In a preview of his book with the New York Times, Van Ness opened up about his early struggles with sex and drug addiction as well as his experience with sexual assault, revealing that he was abused by an older [...]

  • 4127_D022_00003_RC(l-r.) Elizabeth McGovern stars as Lady

    Box Office: 'Downton Abbey' Dominating 'Ad Astra,' 'Rambo' With $31 Million Opening

    “Downton Abbey” is heading for a positively brilliant opening weekend after scoring $13.8 million in domestic ticket sales on Friday. If estimates hold, the feature film version of the popular British television show should take home approximately $31 million come Sunday, marking the biggest opening ever for distributor Focus Features and beating previous record holder [...]

  • Gully Boy to represent India in

    'Gully Boy' to Represent India In Oscars Race

    The Film Federation of India has chosen Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” as its entry in the Academy Awards’ international feature film category. The picture, a coming of age tale about an aspiring rapper in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum premiered at the Berlin film festival in February before opening to a wave of acclaim at home in [...]

  • Lucy-Lost

    Cartoon Forum: 30th Anniversary, Little Giants and New Generations

    TOULOUSE, France –  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Cartoon Forum wrapped Sept. 19 having showcased the ever-growing strength of European animation. 85 projects were pitched from 24 countries at the co-production forum platform that played host to north of 1,000 investors, distributors and producers – a record number. Falling on French-speaking Belgium – Wallonie-Bruxelles – whose [...]

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content