The House of Yes

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Mark Waters

REVIEWED: 10-27-97

The best reason to see the macabre black comedy The House of Yes is a daredevil performance by the young actress Parker Posey, who gets one of those fluky once-in-a-lifetime showcases that an actress should play, well, only once in a lifetime. Posey plays Jackie-O, a cunning little sociopath festering in genteel perversity with her mother (Genevieve Bujold) and brother (Freddie Prinze Jr.) in an airless Washington, D.C., mansion. A massive trauma befell the family on the day JFK was gunned down in Dallas, and ever since, Jackie-O has prowled the house in a pillbox hat and a murderously volatile temper. Unfortunately for her other, relatively normal brother (Josh Hamilton), he has chosen the 20th anniversary of the assassination to bring his fiance (a remarkably winning Tori Spelling) home for Thanksgiving--against Jackie-O's hitherto unchallenged wishes.

The script (adapted by director Mark Waters from a play by Wendy MacLeod) is the contemporary absurdist version of what used to be called "the well-made play": smartly constructed, clever, and filled with facile ironies, quirks, and grotesque twists that hint at larger meanings that aren't there. (It's reminiscent of the cult horror-comedy Spider Baby, which has more surprises.) The dialogue is witty but mannered and arch, and banter that would crackle onstage sounds merely sing-songy when chopped up by editing.

But Posey, a rising talent who's all but ubiquitous on the Sundance circuit, galvanizes the brittle gamesmanship of the material. Her eyes twinkle with malice, and she flicks her nastiest lines like a riding crop; she's almost demonically alert to Jackie-O's cruel wit and mercurial mood swings. Her performance is pitched only a notch lower than a dog whistle, and you couldn't bear it for a minute longer than the movie's admirably short running time. Give both her and The House of Yes credit, though, for not overextending their welcome.

--Jim Ridley

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