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THE HOUSE OF MIRTH

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Review by Alex Haberstroh

Stars:  Gillian Anderson, Dan Akroyd, Eleanor Bron, Terry Kinney, Anthony LaPagilia, Laura Linney, Eric Stolz
Director:  Terence Davies
Audio:  Dolby 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Studio:  Columbia Tri-Star
Features:  See Review
Length:  140 minutes
Release Date:  May 30, 2001

Film ***1/2

The lifestyle of the early 1900’s seems almost incomprehensible today.   Pre-income tax and pre minimum wage, the gap between the rich and poor was immense, the fortunes of families like the Rockefellers, Astors, and Carnegies enormous.  It was a time when the high society of America was little different other than the titles from the British aristocracy.     

Set in New York City in 1905, Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth focuses on this period of outlandish privilege, as well as on its strict social mores and folkways.

Lily Bart (Anderson) is a beautiful young lady living in the upper echelons of New York society.  Spending her days going from one social event to the next, her life is quite pleasant.  Much to Lily’s chagrin though, she is getting older, meaning that marriage will soon be forced upon her so that she may stay in society’s good graces.  Unfortunately, her choices are somewhat limited, namely, the wealthy (but terribly boring and pious) Percy Gryce, the sleazy Sim Rosedale (LaPaglia), and the married Gus Trenor (Akroyd).  Sadly, the man that Lily does love, lawyer Lawrence Selden (Stolz), is too poor for Lily’s standards, leaving her somewhat miserable and frustrated.  

Making matters worse, Lily is na´ve, and doesn’t realize that her beauty and charm bring nothing but jealousy from her girlfriends and cousin, as well as bitter resentment from the men that lust after her but fail. 

While many have been curious about what fellow X-Files star David Duchovny will do “post-Evolution,” I’d argue that there should be no problem with co-star Gillian Anderson finding work after the sci-fi cult hit.  Admittedly curious how Anderson would play the character, I was surprised.   Anderson’s performance as Lily Bart is masterfully done, and she fits her complex character easily.  Her approach to Lily Bart resembles nothing of the skeptic FBI agent, which was a shock to me, having been watching The X-Files since its inception.  

Besides Anderson’s powerful performance, the movie has a great supporting cast including this year’s best actress nominee Laura Linney, as the vindictive Bertha, and Dan Akroyd, as Gus Trenor.

House of Mirth’s title is extremely misleading, as before I watched the film or read the back, I assumed that this was going to be a romantic comedy, which couldn’t be any further from the truth.  By and large, House of Mirth is a tastefully done tale, telling the tragic fall taken by one of the upper classes’ elites. 

While I enjoyed the film completely, as a slower paced period drama, it is certainly not a film for everyone, and if one doesn’t care for movies like the Age of Innocence (another Edith Wharton novel), one would be wise to tread carefully.

Video ***

Another superb transfer from Columbia.  As usual, the colors are very pleasing to the eye, even in a somber drama such as The House of Mirth.   Flesh tones are natural looking and there are few problems with shimmering or black levels.  The only complaint I have is the occasional softness the print appears to have in certain scenes (which seemed to enhance the “Masterpiece Theater” effect even more for me), but generally the color composition is fine.  

Audio ***

Even though most of the film is dialogue oriented (hey, what’d you expect?), Columbia still has kept the integrity of the sound in mind.  The front soundstage handles most of the film’s effects and the soundtrack is generally what is most heard in the rear speakers.  Another decent track from Columbia.

Supplements ***

Included first is a commentary with director/writer Terence Davies.  Briefly amused that Davies had such a strong English accent that it sounds like he should be discussing wild boars on the Discovery Channel, I was impressed by his highly enthusiastic attitude about the project, both as a director and a writer.  This helps make up for the fact that some of the information is boring.  Next is a compilation of a few deleted scenes, with optional director commentary.  The scenes do not seem major, but Davies argues that he’d have preferred them in, for more exposition of the characters motivations, et al.  After that were the typical filmographies, and trailers for The Age of Innocence, Little Women, Sense and Sensibility, Remains of the Day, and the film’s trailer (after watching just the trailers for all these films I felt like I needed a shot of adrenaline to get my heart going again).   

Summary:

If you like period pieces or independent dramas, then you could do a lot worse than House of Mirth.  With charming performances this is a sure winner for all fans of art house films on DVD.  Recommended with reservations.