Anthony Estrella, Beverly D'Angelo, comedy, David Rasche, drama, film festivals, Holly Chou, Kathryn Erbe, Kelly AuCoin, Kevin Kline, Laurie Hanley, Massachusetts, Maya Forbes, Molly Brown, Morena Baccarin, movies, Rebecca Henderson, reviews, Rob Delaney, Sebastien Labelle, Sigourney Weaver, The Good House, TIFF, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Wally Wolodarsky
December 28, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky
Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional town of Wendover, Massachusetts, the comedy/drama film “The Good House” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A real-estate agent, who is an alcoholic with big financial problems, tries to salvage her business around the same time that she rekindles a romance with a former high-school classmate who is almost her complete opposite.
Culture Audience: “The Good House” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Sigourney Weaver and movies about middle-aged people trying to improve their lives but sometimes stumble in the process.
“The Good House” is neither terrible nor outstanding but might be appealing to viewers who are interested in seeing emotionally authentic movies about middle-aged people dealing with personal problems. Sigourney Weaver’s feisty performance as an alcoholic real-estate agent is the main reason to watch this uneven dramedy. The movie’s storyline about seeking a redemptive comeback is handled better than the movie’s storyline about finding love.
Husband-and-wife filmmakers Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky directed “The Good House” and co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Thomas Bezucha. “The Good House” is based on Ann Leary’s 2013 book of the same name. After having its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, “The Good House” screened at the 2022 Provincetown International Film Festival in Massachusetts and the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
“The Good House” is of those movies where the protagonist not only does voiceover narration but also looks at the camera to talk directly to viewers. If you have tolerance for this type of presentation in a movie that plays it safe overall with a talented group of cast members, then “The Good House” is worth watching. The dialogue is often sharp and witty, even though some of the plot developments are stale and predictable.
The protagonist of “The Good House” is outspoken and sassy Hildy Good (played by Weaver), who has lived in the fictional town of Wendover, Massachusetts, her entire life. As Hildy says proudly in a voiceover near the beginning of the movie: “My family has lived in Wendover for almost 300 years.” (“The Good House” was actually filmed in Nova Scotia, Canada.)
Hildy, who is divorced with two adult daughters, comes from a working-class background (her father was a butcher), but she became a successful real-estate agent. She is currently an independent realtor with her own small business called Good Realty, where she has one employee: a ditzy assistant named Kendall, who is taking a gap year before she goes to college. Hildy lives with two beloved female dogs: a Papillon and a Border Collie, which are her constant companions.
Most of Hildy’s clients are wealthy residents of Massachusetts’ North Shore. During a showing of a house to married potential buyers Lisa Sanderson (played by Holly Chou) and Rob Sanderson (played by Anthony Estrella), Hildy comments, “We will find you the right house. Buying a house that is out of reach is a recipe for misery.”
Hildy then turns to the camera and says, “I should know. I bought a house I could almost afford. And if everything had gone according to plan, I’d be fine.” Hildy also describes herself as a self-made woman who “worked her way through UMass [the University of Massachusetts], and I’m the top broker on the North Shore. Or at least I was until …”
Lately, Hildy has been dealing with some major setbacks that have negatively affected her business. For starters, she’s an alcoholic who is in deep denial about needing treatment for this disease. Secondly, she’s getting stiff competition from realtor Wendy Heatherton (played by Kathryn Erbe), who used to work for Hildy, “before raiding my Rolodex and stealing all of my clients,” according to Hildy. Third, Hildy has increasing debts, due to not being to make as much money as she used to make, in addition to helping out her adult daughters financially and paying alimony to her ex-husband.
Hildy’s elder daughter Tess (played by Rebecca Henderson) lives In Beverly, Massachusetts, with her husband Michael (played by Sebastien Labelle) and their toddler daughter Lottie. Hildy’s younger daughter Emily (played by Molly Brown) is a bachelorette and an artist who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and has a roommate, but Emily gets help from Hildy to pay the rent and other bills. Hildy is hiding her money problems and thinks this is what can put her back on the right financial track: “I need a good year.”
Hildy believes that she’s found some of this financial windfall in a potential sale of a waterfront property owned by Frank Getchell (played by Kevin Kline), who has had the property in his family for years, but he doesn’t want to sell it. He owns a successful maintenance company called Frank Getchell Contracting. Frank, who is a never-married bachelor with no children, has more than enough money to lead a flashy lifestyle, but he lives modestly and is somewhat of a misfit loner in the community.
When Hildy tells Frank that a lawyer from Boston is interested in buying Frank’s waterfront property, Frank rejects the idea of selling it. Hildy tries to get Frank to change his mind by saying: “You’re a businessman, Frank. Don’t you want to make money?” Frank replies, “Not as much as you do. The butcher’s daughter has gone fancy pants.”
Frank and Hildy have a past together: Frank was Hildy’s first love, and they had a short-lived romance during the summer before she went away to college. The relationship didn’t last because their lives went in two different directions: Frank joined the U.S. Army, while Hildy went to the University of Massachusetts. Hildy ended up marrying an affluent college classmate named Scott Good (the father of Tess and Emily), “who introduced me to high thread-count linens and fine wine. I do miss sailing,” Hildy says.
After 20 years of marriage, Scott left Hildy for another man, which is why they got divorced. Hildy is still bitter about this rejection, but it’s later revealed that her divorce isn’t the real reason why she became an alcoholic. Scott (played by David Rasche) is on cordial terms with Hildy, and they sometimes socialize with each other at mutual friends’ events.
Unfortunately, the trailer for “The Good House” already reveals about 70% of the movie’s plot, including Frank and Hildy rekindling their romance. What the trailer doesn’t reveal is a soap opera-type subplot involving two married couples who know Hildy, who finds out a scandalous secret that could affect these couples’ marriages. (The secret is the most obvious one possible.)
The first couple at the center of a potential scandal are Rebecca McAllister (played by Morena Baccarin) and Brian McCallister (played by Kelly AuCoin), who is a workaholic businessman. The other spouses are psychiatrist Peter Newbold (played by Rob Delaney) and Elise Newbold (played by Laurie Hanley), who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hildy has known Peter since he was a child. Hildy and her close friend Mamie Lang (played by Beverly D’Angelo) used to babysit Peter when Peter was about 8 years old.
Rebecca is a homemaker who is friendly but has some emotional issues. In an early scene in the movie, when Hildy is showing the Sandersons a house near Rebecca’s home, Hildy is somewhat horrified to see Rebecca gardening in the front yard while wearing a white nightgown and construction shoes. Hildy discreetly says to Hildy, “It’s chilly outside, dear. Do me a favor. Put on a sweater and a hat and some leggings.” Rebecca laughs and replies, “Yes. Sometimes, I get carried away, and I don’t think things through.”
Rebecca’s husband Brian is away from home a lot because of work. And so, a lonely Rebecca befriends Hildy. They end up confiding in each other about a lot of things about their personal lives. Hildy also becomes acquainted with a married couple named Cassie Dwight (played by Georgia Lyman) and Patch Dwight (played by Jimmy LeBlanc), whose 5-year-old son Jake (played by Silas Pereira-Olson) is living with autism.
Even though Hildy lives alone, she has a fairly active social life, which usually includes going to dinner parties. At one of these parties, Hildy divulges that she’s the descendant of Sarah Good, one of the first accused witches of Salem, Massachusetts. And then, Hildy does a psychic reading at the party while the movie’s soundtrack plays Donavan’s “Season of the Witch.”
“The Good House” has scenes that sometimes awkwardly balance the comedy and the drama. This clumsiness is demonstrated the most in how the movie presents Hildy’s alcoholism, which is sometimes reduced to soundbites where she talks to the camera about it with glib jokes. The movie then uses cheap gimmicks such as hallucinations or Hildy stopping in the middle of a conversation to tell “The Good House” viewers what she’s really thinking by saying it out loud.
In one such scene, Hildy is drinking alcohol when she’s alone in her house. She quips, “I never drank alone—before rehab. Scott always said I should stop after my third drink.” Hildy then hallucinates her ex-husband Scott appearing before her to add, “That’s when you start to get out of control.” Hildy says in response, “What are you talking about? That’s when I start to feel in control.”
The trailer for “The Good House” already revealed that Hildy’s loved ones stage an intervention, in an attempt to get her to go to rehab. It’s just another scene where Hildy comes up with one-liners to continue being in denial about how serious her alcoholism is. It’s hinted at but never told in detail that Hildy’s alcoholism has alienated many of her former clients and has given Hildy a reputation for being erratic. Hildy eventually opens up to someone about some painful things from her childhood, but that’s as far as the movie goes in exploring Hildy’s psychology.
Mostly, Hildy is presented as someone who is trying to fool people into thinking that she has her whole life together when her life is actually falling apart. She doesn’t fool Frank though. It’s one of the reasons why their relationship is easy to root for, because he sees her for who she really is and loves her despite her flaws. It’s a case of “opposites attract” because Hildy likes to put on airs to impress people, while Frank is completely down-to-earth.
One of the shortcomings of “The Good House” is that instead of focusing more on the relationship between Hildy and Frank, the movie tends to get distracted by the messy and melodramatic subplot involving Rebecca, Brian, Peter and Elise. Throughout the movie, Hildy has some drunken antics, with a few of these shenanigans having consequences that might serve as a wake-up call for Hildy to get professional help for her problems.
Weaver doesn’t disappoint in giving a very watchable performance of this emotionally damaged character. The supporting cast members are also up to the task in playing their roles. However, Hildy’s often-prickly personality is written in the movie as overshadowing all the other characters. Sometimes this character dominance is a benefit to “The Good House,” and sometimes it’s a detriment. “The Good House” doesn’t always succeed in having a consistent tone, but the story has enough realistic portrayals of adult relationships to make it an appealing story to viewers who are inclined to watch these types of movies.
Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released “The Good House” in select U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on October 18, 2022. “The Good House” was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 22, 2022.