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Mad About the Family

Just when you thought you couldn't stand to watch another movie about a household concealing a dark secret--or sit through another Thanksgiving reunion--along comes The House of Yes. Adapted from Wendy MacLeod's award-winning play We Are Living in the House of Yes, it's a black comedy of manners concerning a bizarre Washington family that can't seem to get over the Kennedy assassination--and probably doesn't want to. Sound interesting?

Twenty years after Dallas, something's still way out of whack with the Pascals. Dad is mysteriously absent. Mother (Genevieve Bujold) talks in sinister riddles. The unhinged younger son, Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.), can't seem to remember what he does all day. And the completely batty daughter, Jackie O. (Parker Posey), remains obsessed with her favorite First Lady, right down to the famous pink suit and pillbox hat.

When Jackie's twin brother, Marty (Josh Hamilton)--the most normal Pascal, the one who's escaped--comes home to the manse for the holiday with his unwitting, hopelessly conventional fiancee (Beverly Hills 90210's Tori Spelling) in tow, you know there will be big trouble. Suddenly we're deep in Harold Pinter Country, adrift in Edward Albee Land.

In other words, nothing is quite what it seems at chez Pascal. Whim overruns logic, and a strange new sense of life outranks whim. Why are the twins such inseparable soulmates? Where did dear old Dad get off to on November 22, 1963? Why does Mom say, "People raise cattle; children just happen"? What did this privileged, mad and wildly mythical family do to itself way back when?

To answer any of these questions here would be to spoil the fun. For while playwright MacLeod and director Mark Waters, who has dutifully transferred her work to the screen, mean to get at the heart of darkness beneath the rituals of family role-play, they also mean to keep us guessing at the worst possibilities and keep us laughing, sometimes bitterly, in that old theater-of-the-absurd way. What a pleasure it is to play along with a thing so fine.

The cast is uniformly expert, if a bit theatrical for the screen's subtler demands. A couple of Posey's more hysterical outbursts sound tinny, but when she needs to carry the day--which is to say, raise the sheer craziness of the piece to art--the queen of the indies pulls it off. This is smart stuff, done with style.

--Gallo

The House of Yes.
Screenplay by Mark Waters, from a play by Wendy MacLeod. Directed by Mark Waters. With Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Genevieve Bujold.

 
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