Film : MVFF
Martha's Vineyard Times File Photo
Snow falls picturesquely at the chilly upstate New York cabin where 30-somethings Alex and Alice are hosting a New Year's Eve party. But yuppie angst quickly brings heavier weather to "Helena From the Wedding."
This indie romantic comedy screens Saturday, Jan. 15, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, thanks to the Martha's Vineyard Film Society.
Writer/director Joseph Infantolini sets a leisurely, humorous pace as the hosts make their cabin ready, finishing up with a rotten egg-tossing competition off the back deck. Alex (Lee Tergesen, seen most often in TV series such as "Army Wives," "Desperate Housewives") and Alice (New Zealander Melanie Lynskey of "Heavenly Creatures") are the most Evrecently wed among their friends, but it doesn't take long for them to wake up to the reality that the honeymoon has ended for the others and maybe themselves, too.
Don (Dominic Fumusa) and Lynn (Jessica Hecht) start squabbling as soon as they arrive, and Nick (an appealing Paul Fitzgerald), separated from Alice's friend Melissa, shows up without his new squeeze. That night squeaking beds and moans from upstairs suggest things may be okay between the squabblers — at least in the bedroom.
But as director Infantolini's acute eye for detail signals, "Helena From the Wedding" focuses mostly on the failures. After listening to Don and Lynn's lovemaking, Alex has to postpone his own amorous advances and tend to his solitary friend Nick. His bride is sleeping soundly by the time he climbs naked into bed.
The holiday festivities really get rolling once the third couple, Steven (Corey Stoll) and Eve (Dagmara Dominczyk), arrive, bringing along an outsider, Helena (Gillian Jacobs). The much younger Helena's stunning good looks and blonde hair have all the men ogling her.
Helena's disruptive arrival pretty much sums up the movie's plot. True, the couples play backgammon, go for a walk, drink a lot, and get high — first on pot, then cocaine. The movie's real substance, however, is not in the action so much as it comes from the conversations between couples, friends, and, of course, everyone with Helena, the least interesting and most cipher-like of the bunch.
One juicy career or romantic revelation follows another, until the tangle of petty problems demonstrates that pushing 40 has its drawbacks and dilemmas. What keeps these yuppies from turning into a banally boring crew of house guests is the quality of the acting and the variety and precision with which Mr. Infantolini draws his characters.
In one scene, Alex attacks Steven and starts chasing him around the outside of the house. The only missing ingredient in over-the-top outlandishness would have been for the guys to be streaking naked. Fortunately, Mr, Infantolini's style of humor is too subtle for that. He's more apt to show Alex with binoculars trying to catch a glimpse of Helena in the bath.
In the tradition of the genre, misunderstandings rule the evening. Almost everybody thinks their partners may be cheating. Nothing truly life-threatening impends in these couples' lives but they soldier on with style and humor, learning how to take life like grownups.
"Helena From the Wedding," Saturday, Jan. 15, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards, a frequent contributor to The Times, divides her time between Oak Bluffs and Northampton.