In this beautifully costumed and lavish period piece based upon Edith Wharton's novel of the same name, Gillian Anderson gives an inspired and luminous performance as Lily Bart, a rising young New York socialite who is ultimately done in by a ruthless friend , deliciously played by Laura Linney, who cruelly sacrifices Lily to save her own reputation.
The dry repartee in which Lily engages and passes for wit in this bygone era sets the tone for the film. It is a carefully orchestrated show in which marriageable society girls engage in order to snag the wealthiest suitor. While Lily Bart is the cream of the crop, she has the misfortune to have given her heart to a socially acceptable, yet financially constrained, lawyer, Laurence Selden, wonderfully portrayed by Eric Stoltz. Her heart claimed by this most unsuitable of suitors, she dallys, refusing to commit to any others, while her star is still on the ascent.
Lily finds herself making an unwise financial transaction which puts her at the mercy of an unscrupulous and smarmy financial investor named Gus Trennor, well played by Dan Akroyd. When he puts Lily in a compromising position in return for the money he now claims that she owes him, she indignantly spurns his advances and incurs his emnity. Meanwhile, her aunt, upon whom Lily is financially dependent, hearing of her financial indiscretion, is appalled and vitually cuts Lily out of her will, leaving her a small determinate sum, rather than making Lily her sole heir as expected.
Meanwhile, her friend, devilishly played by Laura Linney, is on the verge of having her marital indiscretions made known to her circle of society friends. She throws everyone off the scent by cutting her friend Lily in a most public fashion with all the attendant insinuations from which much may be inferred. This has the net effect of causing Lily to fall totally into social disgrace. Her star is now very much on the descent.
When her aunt dies, and Lily is left virtually penniless, Lily finds herself alone and on a downward spiral, forced to earn her daily bread for the first time in her life. Abandoned by her friends, she despairs, even though she has the means of regaining her former status at her fingertips, would her information not also sully the reputation of her true love, Lawrence Selden, as well as that of the false friend who brought her to this point. To her detriment, she takes the high road of love and honor. Too late, Selden realizes the sacrifice that Lily has made on his behalf.
What happens to Lily and why is an interesting study of human frailties, class consciousness, social status, and honor. This film is a beautifully and richly costumed period piece with bravura perfomances by the entire cast. Those who are fond of period dramas will surely enjoy this film.
on June 7, 2001
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD.
Director Terence Davies sensitively directs a fine group of actors who portray the characters in Edith Wharton's most famous novel. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH is an excellent art house presentation with the added allure of Gillian Anderson in the uncharacteristic role of Lily Bart-----a beautiful, vulnerable, but shortsighted woman who knows what she wants but is driven to pass up every opportunity for a "brilliant" marriage to a scion of New York society. Miss Anderson's personality is a bit too modern for the role of Lily, but she does a commendable job in the part. There is perhaps a bit too much of a feminist message in her comments on a woman's role in society. We are, after all, seeing the events of a century ago, and judging the past by present day standards always gives the sense of belatedly condemning history. But despite the cross-cutting of emotions, class and subtle sexism, the general theme of the story is that most people find out the truth about themselves and their milieu too late.
Eric Stoltz is remarkably affecting as Lawrence Seldom, a man who understands Lily, the world, but not himself. The scene in the garden at the Trenor party where he and Lily almost declare their love for each other is one of the most memorable I've seen in years.
Anthony LaPaglia as the social climbing businessman and Dan Aykroyd as the lustful Gus Trenor are right on the mark with their characters. Terry Kinney as the weak-willed George Dorset has an understated intensity that few actors could successfully convey. Laura Linney as his malicious and scheming wife Bertha turns in an excellent performance as the woman who dramatically delivers the coup de grace to Lily's social ambitions.
The standout for me, though, is Jodhi May who plays Grace Stepney. Her face can show conflicting nuances of emotion that deeply affect the viewer. Where has this actress been hiding? There are scenes between her and other actors where she is saying one thing, yet conveying quite a different meaning to the audience through her facial expression that are positively heartbreaking. One scene in particular has her turning Lily down for a desperately needed cash advance in the full knowledge that her denial will end in tragedy for Lily. She denies her the money for supposedly moral reason, yet has tears of regret in her eyes because of the jealousy that is making her do it. Portraying a conflict of emotions in a single character is a rare talent and Miss May's ability is magnificent.
Let's hope we see more of this very gifted actress and that her next role will be more prominent. Hers is a performance not to be missed in a film of great emotional depth.
on March 28, 2001
"I have tried hard, but life is difficult, and I am a very useless person."
So opines the tragic Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson) in Terence Davies superb adaptation of Edith Wharton's blistering indictment of the vacuous, convention-constraining life of New York society in the early 20th century. Gillian Anderson is stunning as the waveringly unconfident Lily whose tenacious morality is unsuited to a world where insincere people idle away endless hours in gossip and back-stabbing. Her lack of ruthlessness causes her irrevocable downward slide over the course of the film's two years.
The beautiful Gillian Anderson, in her juiciest role to date, dominates the entire film, gracing virtually every scene. Her Lily is entirely believable, earnestly trying to follow the rules to support her plush lifestyle, by speaking with affected tones and mannerisms, and feigning a stiff upper lip during the many adversities she encounters. But she only follows the rules half way, and when the chickens come home to roost, her deep vulnerability leads to a heartbreaking catharsis. Anderson's performance is doubtless one of the best performances of 2000 (male or female), all the more amazing when one considers that she wasn't even rewarded with an Oscar nomination, the same slight that befell Bjork who was absolutely superb in Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. What a pity.
Terence Davies' facile treatment of the material admirably maintains Wharton's restraint, faithful to the era. The audience, sensitized to the "civility" of the period, shudders when the emotional confrontations arrive -- confrontations based on mere insults or raised eyebrows which are no less powerful than had they been punctuated with the physical violence which accompanies modern day fare. Special mention should also be made of the gorgeous photography of Remi Adefarasin whose camera soaks up the Renoir-like beauty of the era at every turn. An altogether remarkable film.
on August 1, 2006
I had to watch this a few times before I really liked it. What got me to watch it more than once in the first place was the georgeous look of it. Costumes, sets, and locations are stunning. Even though I was a bit bored with it at first, I felt like there was something worth exploring again. I watched it again last night and the brutality of it finally clicked. Every cruel insult is always said with a smile, and spoken in the most pleasant and proper way. Awful things are happening but no one acknowledges them.
That's why I think I didn't get it at first -- it is low key, calm, and with little excitement, but that is how the world of upperclass society is portrayed. Politeness and propriety overrule emotions and compassion. In a way fear overrules it all. Fear of ostracism and inconvenient associations keep people from doing the right things and standing by their friends. Lily Bart does the right things, follows her emotions, and gives in to her vices. In the end she loses everything for it.
I am giving it three stars because I still don't like how it moves along, with short and choppy scenes, and no background music, making it feel very stark and dull. Dan Akroyd is a joke -- he seems like a kid trying to act like a grown-up. I don't know what the casting director was going for with that choice.
Other than that, the acting is very stiff and often times it feels like the cast is simply reading their lines off of the page. I understand why they are doing it now, it's all part of the desensitized image they are portraying. Yet to a movie with very little energy to begin with, this acting style doesn't help even if it is relevant to the story.
In summary, if you are patient, there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you do not want to invest the time, look for other options. One suggestion is another Edith Warton adaptation, "The Buccaneers" that will keep you hooked like a soap opera, and offer some quicker gratification.
on August 1, 2001
Beautiful. Stunning. Astonishing. Heartwrenching.
All these describe The House of Mirth, the movie based on Edith Wharton's 1905 novel, a piece so utterly overwhelming in its visual and literary beauty that the viewer ends up feeling somewhat drained by the experience. Drained in a wonderful way.
When was the last time you sat down and watched a movie and connected fully with the main characters? If it's been a while--and I know it had been for me--then this movie is for you. The film follows the beautiful Miss Lily Bart, a twenty-nine-year-old single socialite who cannot be accused of having good luck...at all. The film is based upon Wharton's novel, and the novel must be classified as a naturalist piece, even by the most optimistic of critics. Viewers find themselves drawn to Miss Bart, even as they want to cry out, "No, Lily! Think!" Lily becomes the most intriguing, endearing character due to Gillian Anderson's astonishing portrayal, the perfect combination of poise, restraint, and emotion, not to mention the feminine wiles that characterize the always beguiling Miss Lily Bart. Anderson, the long-time star of the cult television classic The X-Files, won the best actress award for the film at both The Village Voice Film Critics' Poll and The British Independent Film Awards in 2000. And trust me, she deserves it.
Other than Ms. Anderson's lovely portrayal, the film also includes performances by Dan Aykroyd (and he is surprisingly wonderful), Terry Kinney, Anthony LaPaglia, Laura Linney (of You Can Count on Me), and the gorgeous Eric Stoltz, whom many have called a younger Colin Firth/Mr. Darcy of The House of Mirth. They all put in beautiful performances.
Simply trust me when I tell you that this film will change your way of thinking, not to mention your way of feeling. It's worth the buy.
on June 11, 2001
'The House of Mirth' is an outstanding film that for some reason was practically ignored by the press, the critics and the academy. After you see it, you'll wonder why this is the case as well.
Director Terrence Davies manages to adequately capture the time period and the screenplay is perfectly in line with the Wharton novel. Shot on location in Scotland, the architecture, breathtaking backgrounds and costuming adequately set the stage for a realistic and definitive period piece.
But it is the acting in this film that makes you sit up and take notice. Eric Stoltz easily captures the troubled Selden Lawrence, torn between his true feelings and his well-known financial shortcomings. Dan Ackroyd plays the vile, manipulative Gus Trenor, who clearly has his own agenda. Laura Linney takes self-absorption to a whole new level as she gleefully sacrifices her loyal friend to save herself. Anthony LaPaglia creates a character that is distasteful, boorish and somehow lovable as he desparately tries to convince Lily Bart to use the power that she possesses to pull herself up at the expense of another.
However, all are completely overshadowed by Gillian Anderson, who is nothing short of phenomenal in her portrayal of Lily Bart. She manages to capture the true spirit of this tragic heroine, scene after scene. Anderson expertly reveals every aspect of this character and clearly depicts the downfall of Lily Bart as she is transformed from the object of every man's desire (and every women's jealousy) into a tragic, desperate woman who is cruelly thrown into the scrap pile of society. Anderson's performance is breathtaking as she weaves raw, yet subtle emotion into every word and action, taking the viewer along for the ride as Lily Bart makes tragic mistakes, takes the wrong advice and ultimately sacrifices herself for her own moral convictions.
If you've read the book, you simply have to see this film. If you haven't read the Edith Wharton novel, you still have to see it. Anderson's performance alone is worth it. I highly recommend this film and I still can't understand why this film was not given the attention that it deserves.
on July 10, 2003
This film came out more than half a dozen years after THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, but the earlier film enjoyed a much more widespread critical and financial success than THE HOUSE OF MIRTH ever found. The reason? Both are adapted from Edith Wharton novels, both are set in the same time period and place, both have self-destructive characters at their center-- but THE AGE OF INNOCENCE had a major name director (Martin Scorcese) and big name stars (Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, and Michelle Pfeiffer) and MIRTH had a little-known British director (Terence Davies) and a star who many were not prepared to see outside of her role in a hit television show (Gillian Anderson), let alone in a period piece.
Audiences missed out-- as did the Academy, which did not see fit to grace it with a single Oscar nomination. MIRTH was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which appears to have put all of their efforts (and promotional dollars) behind CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON that year. Sadly, promotion, not merit, is the name of the game with the Academy (not that TIGER wasn't a good film), although there now seems to be rumblings about reforming the process, i.e. for studios to stop "buying" votes by way of copious, conspicuous freebies and promos (see Miramax and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE).
So, having dealt with the two strikes against it (no big names, little promotion), I can say that this is an exceptional film. Gillian Anderson fits Lily Bart like a glove-- Lily's humor, her charm, her impetuousness, and her ultimate desperation are all captured in luminous tones. She is ably supported by Anthony LaPaglia and Dan Ackroyd as, respectively, Rosedale and Gus Trenor (both well-cast-- if one can abandon preconceived notions about what sorts of roles they should and should not play :-) ), although I felt that Eric Stoltz' Selden was somewhat wooden (hardly the type that Lily would be drawn to) and was a bit confused by the combining of Gerty Farish and Grace Stepney into one character-- the novel puts these two characters at very different poles in Lily's life, and the combined character often doesn't make sense in how she interacts with Lily. However, the positively TOXIC performance by Laura Linney as the scheming Bertha Dorset is a stand-out-- from her first appearance you know that she will somehow assure Lily's destruction.
Lily's descent is frustrating yet riveting; we see how each poor decision and misstep take her further from her goal (to take her place in high society as the wife of a wealthy, respectable man) and place her in the gunsights of "indiscreet" Bertha-- who quite handily uses her as a scapegoat when her own infidelities threaten to catch up with her. But we follow Lily, and care about her, because she has a spark and vibrancy that the more "respectable" women lack. Lily doesn't deserve what happens to her-- she is victimized not only through her own actions (and inactions) but by the cold, unforgiving nature of women in her "circle" and the unwillingness of the men to challenge the status quo. Both Rosedale and Trenor are diffident in their interactions (Ackroyd is particularly brutish in one key scene; who knew he had such nastiness in him?) with Lily, and Selden is ineffectual at best-- he has no right to agonize over her increasingly intenable position (as Lily sharply reminds him in a especially wrenching scene), nor to ultimately cry for her, as he has not involved himself in her life to a level that would have made a difference in her fate.
Those who have read the novel (as I have) know the outcome, but Gillian Anderson keeps us riveted to her-- she continues to fight for herself, and thus inspires the viewer to stay with her wherever her life leads. So yes, it IS a slog, in a way-- Wharton excels in creating fascinating yet ultimately self-destructive characters-- but oh, can any of us turn away from the wonder that is Lily Bart?
Writer-director Terence Davies has done a superb job of adapting Edith Wharton's brilliant novel for the screen. Rarely deviating from the source, much of the dialogue is as Ms Wharton wrote it. Set in the Gilded Age of 1905 New York, the film portrays the closed, repressive society of the wealthy aristocracy at the dawn of the 20th century. It is also the story of the downfall of one woman, who attempts to live by her own rules, with no sponsor and no money of her own.
Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson) is one of society's most beautiful and accomplished women. She is searching for a rich husband but is drawn to Lawrence Seldon, (Eric Stoltz), a man whom she respects and could love. Seldon, however, is a mere barrister, whose lack of income makes him entirely unsuitable as a spouse. "Why is it when we meet we always play this elaborate game?" Lily asks Lawrence, at one point. The answer is that the claustrophobic world they live in gives them no other choice.
Therefore Lily is forced to explore farther afield for available suitors in the limited circle of her acquaintances. As expected, she is popular with both bachelors and married men. Most of the bachelors propose marriage at one time or another but, on each occasion, she cannot bring herself to marry a man she despises. Though she has little money, she has family connections, good breeding and the hope of coming into an inheritance. Lily has been brought up to be an ornament, as were most women of her class at that time. She is a gilded bird with a noble heart, but clearly she is not aware of the restrictions of her cage. Part of Lily's tragedy is that she does have character, spirit, and a conscience. However, she does not know how to align these attributes, with her ornamental avocation, and her ambitions to marry a wealthy man of good birth.
Lily has developed a gambling habit to support her lifestyle, and to supplement her allowance. An unfortunate losing streak has put her into debt. In her naivete, she forms an unsavory business alliance with a married man, Gus Trenor, (Dan Aykroyd). Later, she is unjustly accused of having an affair with him and their business arrangement also come to light.
Her family cuts her off without a penny because of the scandal. Society friends and connections reject their former darling, trying to extricate themselves from any repercussions Lily's indiscreet behavior may have on their reputations. The irony is that Lily has never committed any of the sins she is accused of. Several friends have done far worse...but with maximum discretion. Lily's crime is indiscretion. Her beaus disappear, as do her marriage prospects. When, in desperation, she reconsiders and decides to accept the proposal of Sim Rosedale, (Anthony LaPaglia), an ambitious and kindly businessman, he is no longer willing to offer her the position of wife, only mistress. The hypocrisy of her class becomes more apparent to her, as she searches for a means to survive, with all the familiar doors closed in her face.
Lily's descent, from society's darling to a penniless, friendless woman is terribly realistic and heartbreaking. The decisions she makes to resolve her situation are astonishing and make the storyline all the more fascinating. You have to see this movie for yourself to discover what happens to our heroine. Director Davies' suffuses the film with an almost unbearable sadness which really captures the tragedy and waste of Lily's life.
Gillian Anderson's performance as the doomed Lily is superb. Lily Bart is one of my favorite literary characters, and I was pleasantly surprised at the former "X-Files" costar's portrayal. Her presence is felt in almost every scene and she is captivating to watch. Laura Linney delivers as the vicious hostess Bertha Dorset, and Elizabeth McGovern is terrific as one of Lily's confidantes. The production design is sumptuous. Kudos to cinematographer Remi Adefarisin, who got an Oscar nomination for "Elizabeth." Eric Stoltz' portrayal of Seldon is somewhat stiff. I, personally, would have preferred another more charismatic actor to play Lily's love interest. This may have to do more with my taste in men than with Mr. Stoltz's considerable talents. however.
This is an extraordinary film. Highly recommended! And by all means check-out the novel if you have not already read it.
For the vast majority of us, Gillian Anderson is indistinguishable as an actress from Secret Agent Scully. Think of one, and you think of the other. But THE HOUSE OF MIRTH is potent evidence that THE X-FILES might be more of a hindrance for Anderson at this stage in her career than a help. Her performance in this film is nothing short of a revelation, marking her as one of the very finest actresses that we have today. She needs and deserves more roles like this in the future; for her not to get them will be our loss as much as hers.
Apart from Gillian Anderson, everything about the film is solid and excellent, but the movie succeeds or fails as Ms. Anderson succeeds or fails. Luckily, she is fabulous, and makes the movie. One cannot help but feel her intense suffering, and the difficulty of her situation. Both this film and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE)and even more so the Wharton novels upon which they are based) do a great job of making one feel the narrowness and hypocrisy of New York society at the turn of the previous century. I will add that I did find Anderson's performance to be better than the rest of the film. I would actually give the film as a whole 4 stars, but her performance elevates it to 5.
The supporting cast is quite excellent for the most part. Laura Linney is appropriately reprehensible in her role, and Eric Stoltz as excellent as always. I loved seeing Elizabeth McGovern in this one, and have always wondered why we don't see her in more films. Anythony LaPaglia was excellent as Sim Rosedale, one of the more complex and interesting characters in the film. Ironically, although through most of the film one of the more apparently coldhearted and calculating characters, he ends up being one of the few to take genuine concern with our heroine's plight.
Interesting bit of trivia: anyone who has seen THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS will recall the very beautiful actress who played Madeleine Stowe's sister, who struck more than one reviewer as bearing a stunning resemblence to Botticelli's Venus. In THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, as difficult as it may be to believe, the same actress, Johdi May, plays the somewhat homely and quite bitter Grace Stepney.
on July 16, 2001
The three stars are for excellent performances (including one by the city of Glasgow, which very convincingly impersonates New York in 1905) and beautiful cinematography. But if you haven't read the novel, it may be difficult to understand just what's going on. A great deal of the action in Edith Wharton's novels happens inside her characters' heads. Even the most sensitive and intelligent of her characters, like Lily Bart, have had all the gumption bred out of them by a suffocating society, and the plot depends mainly on their making bad choices at crucial moments. Wharton can tell us what the character is thinking, and why she is always working at cross-purposes with herself, right up to and including the last thing she ever does, when she takes an overdose of sleeping medicine; she may intend to kill herself or she may not, Lily herself doesn't really know.
A movie simply can't tell you all that, it has to simplify and shorten the plot, and some characters have to be written out. But did they have to sacrifice Gertie Farrish? She's a wonderful character, a glimpse of hope for women in gilded age society, in that she has managed to build an independent life for herself, and to do something more worthwhile than sit around in drawing rooms serving tea. When she's first mentioned, it's as a drap spinster whom Lily pities, but in the end, Gertie is Lily's only true friend, and this in spite of the fact that she knows they both love the same man. Her generosity is quite a contrast to the society women who dump Lily for supposedly having an affair with a married man, even though they all know perfectly well that she's innocent. At the end of her life, Lily gets a glimpse of redemption when she meets one of the poor women whom she and Gertie helped with their charitable work. And why don't we get even a glimpse of Lily's parents, in at least a brief flashback? It was Lily's mother who effectively wrecked her daughter's life, by bringing her up to accomplish one thing only, namely to marry rich, and win back her family's status after her father lost his fortune. (The scheming mother in "Titanic" was the same stock type; she may even have been modeled on Wharton's character).
The movie is worth seeing, but it's no substitute for reading the novel.