Film & Television

‘The Good House’ is Good, but Sigourney Weaver is Great

Here are some sobering statistics. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol use increased significantly. No doubt stress, anxiety, boredom, and grief contributed to this — alcohol is the sedative of choice for many people as it’s easy to obtain, relatively cheap, socially acceptable, and legal — and early on, there were rumors that alcohol could boost the immune system (it doesn’t) and/or destroy the SARS-CoV-2 virus (it can’t). In multiple ways, women disproportionately felt the effects of COVID, leading some economists to call it the “Pink Pandemic.” Between homeschooling kids, protecting aging parents, working remotely, or losing their job altogether, a glass or two (or five) of wine quickly became “mother’s little helper.”

However, the problem predates the pandemic. According to an analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, overall alcohol-related deaths rose 35% between 2007 and 2017. That’s disturbing enough. But, alcohol-related deaths among women in that same time period rose 67%. 

So how do you know if your social drinking has become problem drinking? At what point does alcohol enjoyment become alcohol abuse?

Ask Hildy Good, the heroine of Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky’s new movie The Good House. She won’t hesitate to tell you. In fact, she’ll tell you directly, breaking the fourth wall often to comment on real estate trends, small town gossip, or — even more often — her drinking.

Hildy lives in the picturesque coastal town of Wendover, with “the best damned views on the North Shore of Boston.” She’s a successful realtor, suddenly facing competition; a devoted mother, whose daughters have flown the nest; a divorcée, whose husband left her for a man, but gets alimony from her; a staunch New Englander, facing financial troubles. And, she’s supposedly a recovered alcoholic, who enjoys a glass or two (or five) of merlot each evening.

Of course, Hildy doesn’t think she’s an alcoholic (that opinion comes courtesy of her daughters, ex-husband, and duplicitous assistant, who staged an intervention a year and a half ago). “Alcoholics drink alone,” she explains. “I never drank alone until I got back from rehab.” She later complains, “I wish my daughters knew my mother; then they’d see what a real alcoholic is.” Her many other witticisms include a common real-life excuse, “In my mind,” she tells us, “Wine is not really drinking. Vodka definitely is.” This is relayed to us before, during, and after she surreptitiously spikes her virgin mary over and over at the family Thanksgiving.

In the course of The Good House, we watch Hildy cope well, then cope not-so-well, then hit rock bottom and barely avoid tragedy, then find redemption. The film, which is based on Ann Leary’s 2013 bestselling novel, changes tone a bit too quickly, stalls at times, gets cluttered with secondary and tertiary characters, and delivers a final act that’s more than a little hard to swallow. But, it has something — or rather, someone — that makes up for any and all awkwardness.

That someone is Sigourney Weaver.

Weaver’s Hildy is thoroughly likeable no matter how many bad decisions she makes. Even the somewhat corny convention of her wry asides to us while other characters remain oblivious feels welcome. Weaver is onscreen virtually every moment of the movie, and there’s so much to unpack from her characterization that it’s easy to ignore any less interesting plot twists (such as which realtor will get to list the coveted new build on the water).

Hildy has cultivated an elegant, well-mannered persona. She drives home buyers along the shore in her Range Rover, narrating town history in a smooth, hypnotic voice. She sips seltzer at booze-soaked parties. She bails out her younger daughter, an aspiring artist, and secures the mortgage for her older daughter, a wife and mother. She hires a friend’s hapless daughter as her receptionist and, after work each day, returns to a beautiful home. Underneath it all, she is stretched too tight. Unless she can close some deals quickly, she will lose that Range Rover and that home. She’s lonely and strikes up an ill-advised friendship with a dissatisfied young newcomer, and rekindles a high-school romance. And, she’s always on the verge of publicly falling off the wagon. 

Years ago, Cheers, the long-lived television series also set in New England, was famously the place “where everybody knows your name.”  Well, Hildy lives in a town where everybody knows everybody’s business. Someone is always watching, and whether you’re cheating on your spouse, building a déclassé “McMansion,” or drinking copious amounts of wine alone with your dogs, there are neighbors waiting to mind your business.

One of the neighbors who sees all, but keeps it to himself, is the aforementioned high-school romance Frankie Getchell. Hildy left Frankie to go to UMass decades earlier and after a stint in the military, Frankie now runs enough scrappy local businesses to become the richest person in Wendover. For those of us thrilled to see Weaver in the leading role, watching Oscar-winner Kevin Kline as Frankie comes in at a close second. Weaver and Kline co-starred in 1993’s romantic comedy Dave and 1997’s drama The Ice Storm. Here, they circle each other warily before getting back together. They know each other so well, and it becomes clear that Frankie has been watching out and waiting for Hildy all along.

While their stories aren’t nearly as engrossing, The Good House boasts some fine talent in supporting roles, including Morena Baccarin as wealthy transplant Rebecca McAllister, Rob Delaney as Dr. Peter “Peanut” Newbold, Rebecca Henderson and Molly Brown as Hildy’s daughters Emily and Tess, Georgia Lyman as a nervous seller Cassie Dwight, and Kathryn Erbe as conniving realtor Wendy Heatherington. I was both pleased and disappointed to see Beverly D’Angelo, another accomplished female actor “of a certain age” as Hildy’s frowsy former drinking buddy Mamie. She isn’t given nearly enough screen time.

The trailer for The Good House focuses heavily on the September-September romance and plays Hildy’s drinking for laughs. It’s misleading; this isn’t a Nicholas Sparks movie. Yes, Hildy deserves a second chance at love, but the core of the film — in Weaver’s remarkably capable hands — is Hildy’s love/hate relationship with alcohol. It’s a relationship many of us can relate to.

The bottom line: Weaver’s extraordinary performance makes The Good House great. 

The Good House is currently playing in movie theaters.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.