The House of Yes
directed by Mark Waters
(Miramax, 1997)

Insanity doesn't run in Marty Pascal's family. It gallops. Still, the craziest thing he's ever done is to bring his fiancee home for Thanksgiving dinner.

That's because Marty (Josh Hamilton), who moved from the family's Virginia homestead to New York some time ago, is desperately trying to live a normal life, something neither he nor his family is prepared for. His family prefers to live in the past, but it's not even their own past: it's the Kennedys' past. Marty's sister (Parker Posey) is not only a dead ringer for Jackie Onassis, she's been going by the name Jackie-O ever since she attended an Ides of March party dressed as the former first lady.

In fact, The House of Yes opens and closes with a home video the siblings made parodying Jackie's famous TV tour of the White House.

In between lies everything from a serious look at masterful manipulation to gut-bustingly funny lines about life in a dysfunctional family.

That makes The House of Yes an odd hybrid -- kind of half Ibsen, half George Kauffman, with a pinch of Flannery O'Connor. There are plenty of ghosts haunting this clan, and at least two skeletons, neither of which seems to be able to stay in the closet, or underground, for very long.

The House of Yes is the directorial debut of Mark Waters, who adapted the story from a play by Wendy MacLeod. It looks like a play and sounds like a play, especially the dialogue.

"A mother doesn't spy; a mother pays attention," Mrs. Pascal (Genevieve Bujold) tells Marty's fiancee (Tori Spelling). Later she notes, "People raise cattle; children just happen." It's just the kind of observation a bride-to-be would rather not hear.

Still, center stage in the play belongs entirely to Posey as Jackie-O. Posey looks the part and acts just the opposite, creating a chilling portrait of celebrity worship gone awry. Jackie-O will do anything to keep her brother home, including act normal: "I watch soap operas. I bake brownies. Normalcy is pulsing through my veins," she tells him.

But Marty need less prompting than would seem necessary; once he's back home, the old ties become binding. The House of Yes turns conventional wisdom on its head: you can go home; what you can't do is leave.

Mark Waters' film is not for all tastes. In fact, it can be downright tasteless. It begins as a dark comedy, then grows so dark it becomes hard to see the comedy. If you're serious about your taboos, this film is not for you. But if you're looking for a film that's about as different as it can get without skewering itself on the cutting edge, The House of Yes is it.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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