Forget about lawyers and doctors and detectives. Why aren’t there more movies about real estate agents? No, seriously. They get around. They interact with lots of different people. Their work can involve high drama. Yes, drama: If the words “closing costs” don’t quicken your pulse at least a tiny bit, then chances are you rent rather than own.
In “The Good House,” Sigourney Weaver plays a real estate agent, Hildy Good. The movie’s adapted from Ann Leary’s 2013 novel.
Hildy definitely gets around (in her Range Rover) and definitely interacts with a lot of people: home owners, home buyers, her two daughters, her ex-husband, a car dealer (hmm, she’s behind on her Range Rover payments). Appealingly steely, Hildy is someone who very much wants to be in control of every situation, and usually is. The exception is when she’s the situation, which tends to involve too much merlot or a Bloody Mary that’s easy on the tomato juice. That’s where the high drama comes in.
The most interesting person Hildy interacts with is Frankie Getchell. Kevin Kline plays him. Frankie’s a local contractor who’s done very well for himself, in a low-key way. “You’re a businessman, Frank,” Hildy says to him. “Don’t you want to make a lot of money?” He answers, “Not as much as you do.” Clearly, he’s on to Hildy, and there’s a reason for that. The summer after high school, they were very much an item. But she went off to UMass, he joined the Army, and here they both are, all these years later, in Wendover.
Where, or what, you may ask, is Wendover? It’s a town on the North Shore, unostentatiously attractive and casually affluent: in other words, Updike country. The Updike angle extends to a highly illicit affair being conducted by Hildy’s former client Rebecca (Morena Baccarin). “Secrets are hard to keep in this town,” Hildy tells her, “though we do our damnedest.” Maybe Wendover is Marblehead or Ipswich. It can’t be Swampscott (which Weaver pronounces correctly, thank you very much) or Beverly or Manchester. They all get mentioned in the movie, which was actually shot in Nova Scotia.
Maya Forbes co-directed with her husband, Wally Wolodarsky, and both had a hand in the script. Forbes grew up in Cambridge, so she knows her way around a rotary, and it shows. There are lots of nice local touches, none of them overdone. Hildy makes a suitably matter of fact “Go, Pats” reference. When Frankie compliments her on the way she’s prepared the lobster they’re having, she says “I got the recipe from the Globe.” After her ex-husband teases her, “You’re a wicked woman, Hildy,” she doesn’t miss a beat: “Wicked pissah.” Now that’s authenticity.
Weaver doesn’t try for an accent (good for her!). Kline does, and it’s more than acceptable. It’s so casually done you wouldn’t notice its accuracy but for the contrast with an actress playing one of Hildy’s sellers. She turns her ar’s into ah’s with such violence she should be doing 3-5 in Cedar Junction.
These niceties of reference and speech will likely be lost on any viewer outside of I-495. What shouldn’t be is Weaver’s performance. She’s always had this lazy authority, all the way back to Ripley, in “Alien” (1979), facing down that creature. It’s the only thing lazy about her. With Hildy to work with, that authority is front and center, and Weaver gives a commanding performance. It’s so good, in fact, that what should have been a misstep by Forbes and Wolodarsky, having Hildy regularly address the camera, works well. It’s fun, if increasingly discomfiting, to be confided in by Hildy.
Kline knows that Weaver’s the one on the pitcher’s mound, and he’s fine with getting out his catcher’s mitt. Frankie is more a set of attributes — funkiness, eccentricity, loyalty, generosity — than he is an actual character. Kline makes him one.
Thanks to its two leads, “The Good House” very much succeeds as character study. As narrative, it doesn’t fare anywhere near as well. There’s some silliness about Hildy having a Salem witch for an ancestor — North Shore past to go with North Shore present — and being able to read minds (presumably handy when negotiating a sale price). The final 20 minutes get pretty melodramatic, with one death, unexpected, and two rescues; one of them is literal, and a relief, the other one is figurative, and wholly predictable. It’s less predictable, though, than two actors as skilled as Weaver and Kline being worth the price of admission. What location, location, location is to real estate, casting, casting, casting is to movies.
THE GOOD HOUSE
Directed by Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky. Written by Forbes, Wolodarsky, and Thomas Bezucha; based on the novel by Ann Leary. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 103 minutes. R (brief sexuality and language)
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.