Housekeeping (1987)

Dir. Bill Forsyth
Starring: Christine Lahti, etc.

I would recommend this to Mitchell–and Tony (which is going out on a limb). I think they will both like this, and maybe even love it. Penny, Grace, Kevin, and Chris would also enjoy this, too. Marc, Don, Joel, Jill and John would also enjoy this–although maybe not enough for me to recommend this. This was a 1001 pick, and I don’t know if it belongs in the book, but I will say this was a well-done (albeit smaller) picture that is worth seeing. This is only on vhs so it’s difficult to track down. (I borrowed the UH copy.) It’s sad that this film will remain unseen and relatively unknown since it’s not out on dvd. I’ll go into why I liked this film in the next sections.

This is an obscure, small independent film, but it’s a very well-done coming age film with a terrific performance. Still, I was surprised to see this film on the list. I remember that it was playing on Bravo when I was in college, and the little I remember of the film didn’t make think this was a must see. Normally, I don’t like talking about the aspects of the film I really liked–since it might raise expectations too high–but if I don’t mention some of these, readers probably won’t make the effort to see the film.

The first reason for seeing this film is the character of Sylvie, played by Christine Lahti. She’s one of those endearing eccentric, free-spirited characters that can often garner attention from the Academy (Lahti or the writers weren’t). Lahti’s performance is subtle and realistic; I was never sure if her character was just eccentric or mentally-ill. Indeed, I’m pretty sure her character was mentally-ill, but the fact that I’m uncertain is a testament to her subtle performance. I think that quality is noteworthy because other actors in similar roles often play the part in too actory ways. I’m thinking of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman or even Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. As likable and good as these performances are, you know you’re watching a performance. Lahti inhabits her role so naturally that you feel like you’re watching a real person, not a performance. And some of the scenes–caused by obliviousness to social conventions–are hilarious. I also loved the fact that they were totally played straight.

So what is the film about? This coming-of-age story involves two sisters who grow up with different people–all of whom abandon them at some point–until their Aunt Sylvie (Lahti) visits them and decides to “take care” of them. Sylvie appears when the girls are teenagers and the two sisters, very close, begin to grow a part. Lucille (Andrea Burchill), the younger, is becoming more sensitive to how others perceive her and becomes increasingly embarassed by her aunt. On the other hand, Ruthie (Sara Walker), her socially awkward older sister, is more compassionate towards her Aunt–perhaps because her own shyness draws her to her Aunt.Tensions mount when neighbors in the small town grow concerned over the girl’s welfare.

Besides the Lahti’s terrific performance, I liked the issues of alienation, conformity and the way relationship between Sylvie and Ruthie, particularly the way Ruthie finds some joy and comfort in her eccentric Aunt.

The film is based on a book, which is not surprising given the film’s literary feel to it (another reason I think Tony, Mitchell and probably Penny would like this).

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