Photo of Sigourney Weaver by Michael Tompkins, courtesy of Roadside Attractions
Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) used to run the real estate game in Wendover, a sleepy hamlet full of multimillion-dollar homes with stunning views of the shore just north of Boston—until, that is, her kids confronted her about her drinking problem. But after a stint in rehab, she’s back at it and it looks like everything is going great. But looks can be deceiving: she hides it all behind the stone-faced patrician façade of a moneyed New England WASP (her Massachusetts lineage goes back to Sarah Good, one of the original Salem “witches”), but her business is struggling after her former assistant (Kathryn Erbe) stole all of her clients while she was away. She’s still supporting both of her adult daughters. She’s lonely after losing her husband of 22 years when he left her for a man. Oh, and when the house is empty and the town has gone to sleep, she’ll open a bottle of wine. Just to take the edge off. She can quit any time she wants.
Hildy is the definition of a high-functioning alcoholic, able to maintain the appearance of sobriety and carry out her life and obligations and leave no one the wiser—she has everyone fooled, but no one more so than herself. But then she befriends Rebecca (Morena Baccarin), a recent transplant to Wendover, and they share a bottle or two of red as the married Rebecca dishes about her affair with Peter (Rob Delaney), the also-married town psychiatrist. Hildy also unexpectedly rekindles a romantic relationship with her endearingly rumpled high school flame Frank (Kevin Kline), and the pair bond over wine and dinner. At first, she just nudges against the rules she’s set for herself, but soon she’s pushing further and further past those boundaries. Something in her carefully crafted life is going to give.
The trailers and posters for The Good House lean heavily on the romance angle, likely hoping to conjure memories in viewers of Weaver and Kline’s chemistry in 1993’s political romcom Dave. Their love story is undeniably sweet and endearing, but it’s not really the focus of the movie. It’s a portrait of an alcoholic, and as such, it’s realistic to such a degree that it can be downright uncomfortable to watch at times. The poor decisions, the flimsy justifications, the blackouts—they can seem like a cheap way to create drama, but alcoholics really do these things every day. These aspects of the film couldn’t ring more true.
That veracity is only amplified by Weaver’s dynamo performance. The Good House is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Ann Leary, and co-directors Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky take a novelistic approach by letting us get inside Hildy’s head in a series of fourth-wall-breaking monologues. Instead of just witnessing her bad behavior, we get to hear her justifications for that behavior in the first person: “I was born three drinks shy of comfortable.” “Three drinks is when I start to feel in control.” “I like a drink, but I don’t need a drink.” “Alcoholics drink during the day.” Weaver so easily shifts gears between the stiff-upper-lip image she wants to show to the world and the carefree attitude her alcoholism enables that she shares with us in these asides. In her performance, we can see why she drinks, the escape that it provides her, the pernicious appeal of alcohol, but it’s hardly shown as aspirational. Alcohol is a depressant, and drinking usually feels good until it doesn’t. Weaver perfectly captures this dichotomy.
But The Good House isn’t dour or depressing, because Forbes and Wolodarsky also want to show us what Hildy has to live for if she could get her life together—reconnection with Frank, with her daughters, and with herself. As her and Frank get closer, he takes her out on his lobster boat in a gorgeously shot sequence wonderfully soundtracked by Beth Orton’s “Call Me the Breeze.” It’s the happiest she’s looked without a drink in her hand. (Related: setting the film on the shores of Massachusetts almost feels like cheating, there’s so much beautiful scenery to provide as a backdrop.) As the film rockets toward its conclusion, there’s an injection of melodrama and magical realism that makes the plot a little wobbly, but it finds its footing and ultimately comes to a satisfying conclusion.
The Good House isn’t a romantic comedy, though it does feature a tender romance and can often be quite funny. (Kline is a charming free spirit, while Weaver is so, so good at sliding in cutting remarks.) But its real appeal is as a dramatic acting showcase for Weaver, and as a thoughtful exploration of alcoholism and the potential of life beyond addiction. | Jason Green