Saturday, 5 December 2015

Home Sweet Hell (2015) - Movie Review to make a commentary on modern-day sexual politics is probably one of the more difficult things to do right. I say this not because making such statements are all that tricky; it’s because of how said statements are often interpreted by audiences. Rather than taking on board the fact that there is a reason why characters in a given creative medium are acting the way they are, they will instead fixate on the fact that you have people acting in rather sexist ways. Not to say that there aren’t cases where they are just being sexist; I mean, possibly because of how unfortunately common such behaviour is, we don’t even notice when it is being done for reasons other than the writer doesn’t know how to socialise properly. Take, for instance, Gone Girl. A sharply written look into gender roles and the media, yet people only seemed to notice how sexist the two main characters were… despite that kind of being the point of the film. Just because they’re the focus doesn’t necessarily mean we have to sympathise with them. With all this in mind, we have yet another film that wants to try its hand at similar subject matter… and going just by the approval ratings it’s gotten, it’s not looking hopeful.

The plot: Don Champagne (Patrick Wilson) is a semi-successful furniture salesman who lives semi-happily with his wife Mona (Katherine Heigl) and their two children. However, when Don starts having an affair with his new co-worker Dusty (Jordana Brewster), their married life starts to get shaken up. Once Dusty tries to extort money out of Don to keep her quiet, Don confesses everything to his wife who comes to only one natural conclusion: Dusty has to die. All of a sudden, Mona’s impossibly intricate attitude to life and her goals starts to take on a whole new light.

Patrick Wilson is a very good actor. Don Champagne, on the other hand, is not; not by a long shot. I draw attention to the difference between the two because Wilson is really good in this movie at being a very bad pretender. The first act of the film, where we see how badly he tries to look like he’s happy with his life and fails, is honestly really effective. It also helps further the film’s theme about how perceptions can be deceiving, coupled with a rather robotic performance from Heigl. However, for the first time in her entire career, her usual coldness works to her advantage here as she portrays a Stepford Wife by way of Joan Crawford, creating serious wince-inducers any time she’s on-screen near knives. Jordana Brewster is… not that impressive, really. She was put in this film to be the eye candy/gold digger, and that’s all she gives; no more, no less.

Keep in mind my comments about sexual satire, and the fact that Married With Children is my all-time favourite TV show, in mind as I go on. At first, the film’s premise of the psychotic wife, the spineless husband, the slutty co-worker and the rather misogynistic drunk that is his other co-worker (Jim Belushi), got a couple of laughs out of me. This was mainly out of how well Wilson portrayed Don but, nevertheless, it starts out well enough. Then the little details begin to creep in and a sudden realisation comes: Haven’t I seen all this before?. Now, this might automatically seem like a bad thing but, let’s be honest, how many original ideas are there? And I’m not just talking about the current state of Hollywood; I’m talking in terms of overall creativity. Originality is kind of overrated, since pretty much everything is a reworking of everything else.

No, what makes this film bad when it comes to being derivative is that it is an extremely tired re-working of elements that have been done countless times before. Remixing means more than just looping the same tune over and over again; you have to add your own touches to make it into something fresh(er). The social ideals about getting into "Champagne society" (Actual fucking quote, just to illustrate my point further), the sexual politics about the compromises needed to make a marriage work, the querying about where the need for materialism starts, the worrying about “what will the neighbours think?”; it doesn’t raise any new points or even portray the old points in any interesting ways. Between American Beauty, Gone Girl, The Lobster and God knows how many others have touched on these subjects, this can’t help but feel extremely behind the rest of the game. I find myself intensely annoyed at the fact that the film keeps presenting possibilities for interesting plot twists, and then just dropping them because the filmmakers apparently couldn’t be bothered to try.

But, like I said, that would be fine if the re-used ideas were utilised well. Unfortunately, between the characterisation and the plot development, this is an very stupidly written film. The aforementioned good acting from Wilson and Heigl? Their respective methods only work in certain scenes, mainly those found in the first act. Beyond that, Wilson’s inability to bluff stops being effective and starts bringing questions about how the hell no-one has found out about him yet. Along with him, Heigl’s cold exterior ends up being a lot more robotic than the role really calls for; like so many other actors out there, she can’t discern between showing no emotion and having no emotion. One is hiding something, the other is just bad acting. She even gets a chance to step outside of that and let out some seriously repressed memories, and actually does a good job. However, by the end credits, what she has given audiences just ends up being a tonally confused performance overall.

Beyond the acting, these are two extremely stupid characters. For as much as Mona gives the air that she knows what she’s doing, supposedly, she makes a lot of amateur mistakes when it comes to the gorier acts that need to be done. Don, considering how well he apparently knows his wife, should know full well that he can just let whoever is coming after them come after them because Mona, in the film’s universe at least, is more than capable of dealing with them. Him being spineless and her being able to hide it well are excuses, after a while, fail to make up for the sheer idiocy on display.

All in all, the sexism is easily the least offensive aspect of this film; after all, in a better film, it could have served a higher purpose. Where this film ultimately fails, despite some decent performances early on, is that it just re-hashes old ideas and revelations without even presenting them in a fresh way; it’s like a compilation of The Lie Of The American Dream’s Greatest Hits. It’s a far less compelling, far weaker, far dumber version of Gone Girl; go watch that instead if you haven’t already.

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