×

Sundance Film Review: ‘Imaginary Order’

Wendi McLendon-Covey plays an OCD mom whose life melts down when she gets involved with a family that appears far less orderly than her own.

Director:
Debra Eisenstadt
With:
Wendi McLendon-Covey, Christine Woods, Max Burkholder, Steve Little, Catherine Curtin, Kate Alberts.

1 hour 41 minutes

Plenty of films great and small have gone spelunking in the quiet desperation of middle-class suburban motherhood, but few have plumbed the milieu with more consistently uncomfortable results than writer-director Debra Eisenstadt’s “Imaginary Order.” Abrasive and often bleakly funny, the film is anchored by an unrestrained lead performance from Wendi McLendon-Covey as a Type A PTA mom who engineers her own absurd downfall, one well-intentioned decision at a time. Admirably acted and powered by a loopy internal rhythm, the film nonetheless wears out its welcome long before it’s done inflicting indignities on its heroine, arriving at its main point early and then repeating it again and again.

Cathy (McLendon-Covey) is a stay-at-home mom whose loneliness and sublimated regret at giving up her career are obvious from virtually the first frame. After quick-cut montages of her arduous morning ablutions set to Chopin sonatas, we watch Cathy as she helicopter-parents her distant teenage daughter Tara (Kate Alberts); fights in vain for the slightest bit of attention from her husband Matthew (Steve Little); rules a school parent volunteer group with an iron fist; and even picks up litter on the roadside with alarming intensity as she power-walks through her dull bedroom community. (There’s more than a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder to her behavior, though the film never addresses it explicitly.)

She agrees to cat-sit for her despondent, recently widowed sister (Catherine Curtin), and while she’s over at her house — cleaning it from stem to stern, naturally — she can’t stop taking notice of the loud, messy family across the street. (They yell! They smoke! They lounge in patio furniture in the front yard!) Clearly, Cathy’s life could use a shake-up, and the film is at its cleverest when it keeps upending expectations as she ingratiates herself into the family’s lives.

A breakthrough seems to be in the cards when she befriends the family’s fun-loving, spirited younger mom, Gemma Jean (Christine Woods). Gemma Jean’s unpredictable zest for life turns out to be merely the outward-facing side of a debilitating addiction, however, so Cathy takes a chance on striking up an impulsive flirtation with Gemma Jean’s estranged husband (Graham Sibley), with similarly unpleasant results. Finally, and most disastrously, she takes an interest in the last remaining member of the family, playing surrogate mom to precocious, neglected teenager Xander (Max Burkholder) while his parents are away at couples’ rehab: The third time is definitely not the charm, and at this point, her life starts to spiral wildly out of control.

The title “Imaginary Order” seems to refer to Lacanian theories of early childhood psychology, so it’s notable when, late in the film, a character finally asks Cathy point-blank, “Who are you?” The trouble is, neither we nor she ever get anywhere close to answering that question. As much as Cathy plants the seeds for her own mounting crises, she’s a predominantly reactive character, and as the film goes on, scene after scene forces her to stumble through some beleaguered response to some fresh hostility or random setback. Perhaps that’s the point, but it starts to become deadening when virtually every other character (up to and including the cat) seems to exist only to casually torment her. McLendon-Covey gives it all she has, but even her full throttle performance can’t stop the film from spinning its wheels a bit.

Sundance Film Review: 'Imaginary Order'

Reviewed at Sunset Screening Room, Los Angeles, January 15, 2019. (In Sundance Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: An Ace Pictures presentation in association with In Motion Pictures. Producers: Debra Eisenstadt, Cosmos Kiindarius. Executive producer: Timur Bekbosunov.

Crew: Director, writer: Debra Eisenstadt. Camera (color): Franck Tymezuk. Editors: Eisenstadt, Clark Harris. Music: Mel Elias.

With: Wendi McLendon-Covey, Christine Woods, Max Burkholder, Steve Little, Catherine Curtin, Kate Alberts.

More Film

  • Matt Damon and Tom McCarthy Team

    Matt Damon Teams with 'Spotlight' Director Tom McCarthy on New Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Even as buzz grows for his upcoming race car drama “Ford v. Ferrari,” Matt Damon looks to keep the pedal to the metal: the A-lister is set to star in the Participant Media feature film “Stillwater” with Tom McCarthy directing. Damon attached himself in May, and the package was quickly acquired by Participant, who previously [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Movie Ticket Subscriptions

    As MoviePass Fades, Theaters Fall In Love With Subscription Services

    MoviePass may be cratering, but movie theater subscriptions are here to stay. AMC and Cinemark already operate their own online ticketing services. And by the end of July, Regal Entertainment is expected to unveil a subscription plan for customers accustomed to getting all manner of entertainment for a monthly fee. With ticket sales down more [...]

  • This photo shows composer Hans Zimmer

    Hans Zimmer on Recreating Iconic Score: 'The Lion King' 'Brought People Together'

    Composer Hans Zimmer is seated at the mixing board at the Sony scoring stage, head bobbing to the music being performed by 107 musicians just a few yards away. He’s wearing a vintage “Lion King World Tour” T-shirt, frayed at the collar. On the giant screen behind the orchestra, two lions are bounding across the [...]

  • Lion King merchandise

    'The Lion King': Disney Targets Nostalgic Adults With High-End Merchandise

    Does Nala wear lipstick? Probably not, but “The Lion King” fans can celebrate the release of the live-action remake with a new line of makeup that’s part of a whole pride of other items themed to Disney’s live action redo. For about $40, the Can’t Wait to Be Queen eyeshadow palette by Luminess Cosmetics includes [...]

  • 'Cats' Movie Trailer: Watch Taylor Swift,

    'Cats' Trailer Drops: Watch Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson in Movie Musical

    Universal has released the first trailer for its film adaptation of the Broadway play, “Cats,” starring Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and James Corden. Based on the book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, the musical follows the Jellicle cats, a family of felines who go before the group’s leader Old Deuteronomy to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content