The House of Mirth

High society: Lawrence and Lily (Stoltz and Anderson) try to control their passions.
dir-scr Terence Davies
with Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz, Anthony LaPaglia, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Linney, Dan Aykroyd, Jodhi May, Eleanor Bron, Terry Kinney, Pearce Quigley, Penny Downie, Helen Coker, Paul Venables
FilmFour 00/UK 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Based on an Edith Wharton novel, The House of Mirth is a story from New York's high society in the early 1900s. And what a tale it is, examining morality and appearances with an askance viewpoint that highlights all kinds of important themes and ideas. The film is stunningly well made, impeccable in every way. And yet, all of the action takes place in the dialog. And in a 2-hour film, that's a lot of talking.

Lily Bart (Anderson) is an eligible young woman who needs to marry well. She and Lawrence (Stoltz) are in love, but he's a working lawyer and needs to marry well himself. So the two vow to keep their passions in check while they seek more appropriate spouses. Enter a few men (Aykroyd and LaPaglia) with the ability to help Lily ... at a price she's not willing to pay. Her insistence on doing the right thing eventually leads to problems with her best friend (Linney) and her reputation is dragged through the mire undeservedly. So what's a disgraced woman to do?

As Lily descends from confident and clever to desperate and powerless, the film not only examines the society of the period, but it also gets into the heart and mind of this remarkable character. Anderson is absolutely first-rate in the role--a subtle, complex, deeply moving performance well deserving Oscar consideration. And all of the characters are tricky--combining the bright banter of an Oscar Wilde-like script with moments of aching soul searching. Davies directs it beautifully, avoiding slickness but getting all the details right. Yes, it's very long and talky, but there's spice in the words. And some seriously powerful messages about integrity and personal strength.

[PG--adult themes] 8.Mar.00
UK release 13.Oct.00

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tread carefully"Yes, it is a wonderful film and very gripping. People talk as though a lot of good, sharp dialogue is a bad thing; on the contrary, the dialogue is absolutely necessary here, when so often the characters are so unable to say what they mean. Everything is in code, and it's very enjoyable to try to break that code. Anderson is magnificent. Her portrait of Lily Bart is nuanced down to the last movement, voice intonation, and look in the eye. It is powerful and perfect. Stoltz is a problem, but then his character in the novel is also a problem. Lily's tragedy is not only her unwillingness to accept at bottom the morals and mores of that society. Also, it lies in her failure to recognize that she has pinned her dreams on a man who is centered very much in that society. He has after all been engaging in affairs with married women, writing and failing to destroy indiscreet letters; he is a player. Lily should realize this instead of taking his few moody words at face value. Paglia is excellent; his scene with Lily near the end is the movie's highlight. The camera work is stunning, and it is obvious that Davies' sensibility is an all-encompassing, and an artistic, one." --MystPhile, net.

"House of Dearth. While elegantly photographed by director Davies and impressively portrayed by Anderson, it is intellectual snobbery to suggest that this is a film worth seeing. The plight and predicament of Lily Bart (Anderson) is plodded and plundered far beyond a reasonable amount of time for a discerning audience to be interested. The overlong scenes and superfluous characters lead to an unsatisfying denouement that has little emotional impact or validity There is no question that Davies is an impeccable director and Anderson eschews her FBI front brilliantly, but bring a pillow in case you nod off." --Danny Stack, UK 25.Jan.01

"Before I begin, let me say that I like movies most people consider slow. I like understatement and subtly. And I like Edith Wharton, period films and yes, I even like Gillian Anderson. But I hated this movie. HATED it. House of Mirth has all the emotional power of a department store display window. A Costume Drama, in the most literal and pejorative sense, the film features an almost entirely miscast group of po(i)sed and well-dressed automatons. No matter what the credits claim, the real stars are the clothes, and the actors mere animatronics mannequins. Anderson looks the part but can't act it. While she's mastered the nuances of character in her alter ego Dana Scully, she seems utterly at a loss as to how to portray the quiet desperation of Wharton's turn-of-the-century socialite, and her performance generally defaults to wooden and forced. The rest of the cast isn't much better, though, so it's hard to say who's to blame. The other characterizations, with a few notable exceptions in the case of Laura Linney's vile Bertha and Anthony LaPaglia's strangely likable Rosedale, consistently lack both direction and plausibility. Dan Aykroyd seems particularly out of place. I suspect director Terrence Davies is ultimately at fault. He seems to view Wharton's scenes as opportunities for his actors strike a pose while the camera lovingly captures every ribbon and bit of lace rather than drawing out any sort of depth or genuine emotion. In all, the production is pretentious and emotionally hollow. I left the theater astounded that a cast of actors that I generally like and respect could turn a compelling story into such a painfully affected mess. I haven't been this disappointed in a movie since Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet." --Michael Myers, net 2.Mar.01.

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall