The House of Yes

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Mark Waters

REVIEWED: 11-17-97

Merely describing Mark Waters' film House of Yes doesn't begin to do its twisted premise justice. Based on Wendy MacLeod's acclaimed stage play We Are Living in a House of Yes, the film follows Marty Pascal (Josh Hamilton) to his upscale family home in Washington, D.C. It's Thanksgiving, and Mark is anxious to introduce his new fiancee, Lesly (Tori Spelling), to the rest of the Pascal clan. There has been a terrible psychic mix-up in the privileged Pascal family, however. On Nov. 22, 1963, at the same time President Kennedy was assassinated, Mr. Pascal mysteriously disappeared. Ever since, no one's been able to keep the two events separate, and the Pascal family home has become a bizarre anti-Camelot swimming in dark secrets and filial angst. Mom (Genevieve Bujold) is a sharp-tongued hermit. Brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is an Ivy League dropout. And Sis ... well, let's just say that "Jackie O" (Parker Posey), as she likes to be called, has never adapted well to the events of 20 years ago.

Weekly Alibi recently chatted with Mark Waters about filmmaking and other blackly comic subjects.

What went into transforming this story from play to film?

Once I got the rights to the play, I kind of put the play aside and just thought to myself that I was making a screenplay from scratch. I did index cards of all the scenes and then put them out on the table. ... I took things away and shifted them around and played with the structure of it. Once that was done, I did storyboards and shot diagrams and conceived the movie visually from beginning to end--bringing out things in the play like the notions of paranoia, people spying on each other, that stuff that you could really get across cinematically better. This is a family obsessed with the Kennedys. You could project that in (certain) ways--adding scenes like the White House tour in the beginning, shooting the assassination game like the Zapruder film. ... Then I went back to the play and took the really great dialogue that existed and inserted it back into this structure. ... So it still has its stage roots, you're not gonna get away from those, but it hopefully moves a little bit in the direction of being something cinematic.

Were you worried about it being "stagebound?"

I prefer not to use the word "stagebound." I thought it would be good to accentuate the claustrophobia of being in one location for an entire movie. I watched my Polanski movies: Repulsion and The Tenant and said, "OK, this is what we're gonna do here; I'm gonna keep everyone in this house from the point that Lesly gets there." Since the movie's short, you're able to sustain that tension. So that was a good thing. I feel a lot of time that the whole notion of "opening up" the play just means adding these lame StediCam shots where they track two actors talking in a garden. If you're going to shoot dialogue, at least do it in a way that adds a visual element that reflects the subtext of the scene.

As a first-time director, you attracted quite a cast of young actors.

Parker (Posey) was somebody I knew I wanted from day one. We went after her, and since she is attracted to interesting material--because Jackie O is a great part by any standard--she was very excited to do it. As a matter of fact, my producers were trying to get me to go after a bigger star because we probably could have got one. However, Parker was perfect. Everybody else was kind of my idiosyncratic favorite choice that we just pursued. Genevieve was the perfect Mrs. Pascal. Tori was the perfect Lesly. It took a little while to wear down their agents and (get them) to treat us like we were for real. But once they did, we were able to get them involved. You have to kind of lie to them: "Yeah, we already have the funding for the movie. Yeah sure, we have financing set up. We're ready to go." Then when you have your actors, you go to financing sources and say: "C'mon, we have these actors. Give us some money."

You worked with both Parker Posey, one of today's hottest young actors, and Genevieve Bujold, a respected actor for some 30 years. Did you notice a dichotomy between them?

The thing is, there's really not going to be a dichotomy. Genevieve Bujold in her career, like Parker, has always sought out more interesting, more challenging material. In the '80s she was an indie queen in her own right--with Alan Rudolph's movies and David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers. The fact is Parker did respect Genevieve and kind of bowed down to her because she was a grande dame of independent film. They're really two generations of something similar. One thing that's interesting to see, overall, is that all the young actors have their best scene when they're acting with Genevieve. Because they all took it so seriously. They had to step up to the plate and deliver the blow with Genevieve.

What's next for you?

I have a screenplay I've been working on for a while. It steals a premise from this Greek play Lysistarata by Aristophanes, which is about a war between Athens and Sparta where the women withhold sex to stop the war. I have it set in a modern Midwestern high school in a racial gang war. The black girls and the white girls get together and decide not to put out in order to stop the violence. It's called Strike. It's another black comedy (laughs).

--Devin D. O'Leary

The House of Yes

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