Often on this site I begin a review by describing the circumstances of my watching the movie or writing the review, but beginning a review at 2:30am on Christmas morning is not a circumstance I never expected to find myself in. I just can’t sleep, so rather than laying there wishing I was asleep and playing over every tiny remembered childhood resentment [I’m also at my parents’ house with my entire family present], I decided to get started writing about this early Gwenyth Paltrow debacle.
We begin with shots of a toy merry-go-round, while we hear a music box version of whatever that mockingbird lullaby is, the one that begins “Hush little baby, don’t say a word…” Then we meet Franklin, played by Jonathan Schaech, who looks like “Bad Boys”-era George Michael and has all the presence of a half-eaten airline meal, bringing his girlfriend Helen [that’s our Gwennie] home for Christmas, at which point she will meet his mother for the first time. Mom is Martha, played by Jessica Lange. I also can’t really tell where all this is happening—it looks like Virginia, and Martha has a vaguely Southern accent, and lives on a big plantation-looking house. Gwennyth—let’s just call her that—can’t believe how huge her boyfriend’s childhood home is. I guess these two aren’t very close. They arrive in the early morning, and find that Martha has prepared the guest room for Gwennie, but Jackson insists that she come in his room and, well, screw. This leads to Gwennie first meeting Martha in her son’s bedroom, nude. Can something be ominous if nothing ever goes on to happen?
So Gwen has a locket with a picture of her parents, who died when she as young. Martha wants Jackson to stay home and work on the farm. There is a prominently-placed diaphragm on the counter of Gwennie’s bathroom. After a New Year’s Eve party, Martha watches Jackson and Gwennie make out and possibly have sex on the landing outside their rooms. Uh—indiscreet? Soon after, they return home to Manhattan.
This soon reveals itself to be the time in history when every New Yorker in movies had a ridiculously fabulous SoHo loft, as these two do. It’s also gargantuan, by the way, indicating that these two make several million dollars per year, and have employed an interior design firm. We then see Gwennie giving an architecture presentation [we never find out what he does], wherein she reveals that she doesn’t know that “optimalizing” is not a word, and “optimizing” is. Then she PUKES in the middle of her presentation, getting some on a guy, although we never learn if he was a partner or client. Turns out—you guessed it—she’s pregnant. So they decide to marry. Ah yes, marrying because she’s pregnant, what a great idea! He hasn’t told her a thing about his childhood and she’s a functional illiterate, sure, why not get married and have an accident-child? That’ll work out fine!
They have a huge wedding on the lawn at Kilronan, Martha’s estate, where Gwennie meets Jackson’s grandmother, Alice, who Martha has tried to keep out of contact with him. By now we’ve been unable to ignore the hideous rom-com style piano-and-strings score by Christopher Young. No sooner have Jackson and Gwennie returned home when she gets attacked by a masked intruder who steals her locket [who the FUCK wants her idiotic locket?] and seems about to rape her, but leaves her alone when she says she’s pregnant. After a little discussion about how Martha just can’t look after the farm by herself, Gwennie suggests they go down for one or two years and fix the place up to sell. Sure, they can just take a few years off from their careers, no problem! What relatable characters! But Jackson MUST tell Gwennie a shocking secret from his past—now, early enough in the screenplay so it won’t seem too contrived later—that he “killed” his father when he was 7. He was mad at his dad for having an affair and somehow surprised him, causing him to fall down the stairs and die. Gwennie then looks at him and says “Okay, but what does that have to do with anything? What does that have to do with us living at your childhood house? I mean, why did you even tell me that?” Actually she doesn’t, she says “You’ve been living with these ghosts for so long!” and later reveals that she wants a daughter, saying “I guess my hopes are showing!”
No sooner are they back on the plantation when Jackson is covered in mud and mom must hose down his shirtless body. She tells Jackson that sex during pregnancy can be uncomfortable and he should leave Gwen alone, then tells her men can change during a pregnancy and she shouldn’t mind of he leaves her alone. Gwennie learns that there’s gossip around town that she’s having a difficult pregnancy, and her doctor believes that she insists on having the baby at home. This is the kind of movie where Gwen can say “Who told you I want to have the baby at home? I never said that” and everything just proceeds as though she said nothing. We also have dialogue about how Jackson has changed and grown different, but the movie hasn’t really shown us this at all, and let’s face it, these characters are drawn so shallowly we couldn’t tell anyway.
Oh dear, but I’m afraid we skipped the rain of rancid rats. One day, while Martha and Jackson are away doing something, Gwennie is doing the only work she ever does in the movie [she is supposed to be helping ready the house to sell] and she pokes up in the attic for something, at which point a bunch of dead, bloody rats fall on her. It’s not really scary, it’s just more bizarre, especially as it has nothing to do with anything else in the movie. Are we supposed to think that Martha arranged a bunch of rats, knowing Gwen would open that door, and they’d fall on her? Just for the additional psychological unnerving? Or is it just an accident? Or did they just throw it in there because NOTHING really violent or menacing happens in the entire film and this could be something to put in the trailer? The only thing for sure that it’s bizarre and makes little sense.
Anyway, Gwen wants to go talk to Jackson's grandmother Alice, but Martha “forbids it,” so she goes anyway. She learns that Martha was a poor stable girl and latched on to the heir of the place and rose to prominence that way. She also finds out that Martha killed her husband by putting some farm tool at the bottom of the stairs, and has just told Jackson it was his fault all along, which is a low-down dirty, dirty trick, I think you’ll agree. When Martha finds out that Gwennie went to see Alice, she goes out to see Alice at the home, who happens to be all locked up in a steam bath—one of those tubs where she’s sealed in up to her neck, and you think “Okay, now it’s on! We’re gonna start our body count!” but no, Martha just turns a little cold water on the lady [you vixen!] and leaves her perfectly alive, at which point you might start to say “Christ! Is anything going to HAPPEN in this movie?”
So Martha goes out to the family doctor’s and asks him how to induce early labor—you know the way those things just come up in conversation sometimes! She discovers that she has the drug to do it right out in the barn for the horses, and we see her a moment later pull it out of the ol’ horse medicine cabinet [no kidding] and bake up a big tasty labor-inducing cheesecake. Oh by the way, have I mentioned that the useless Jackson is away on an overnight at some big horse race? By the way, apparently if you know horses you can plainly see that these are show horses and not race horses, and there’s something really sketchy about the whole labor-drug as well. By now Gwennie is just insipid and sullen [as opposed to insipid and bubbly] and takes the cheesecake up to bed with her. And she’s so dumb that she eats it all right before bed.
SPOILERS, THOUGH NOT REALLY > > >
So Gwennie wakes the next morning feeling all queasy, and goes, barefoot in just a nightie, down to the horse barn, where she finds a whole decked-out nursery for a baby boy—okay, in the BARN? The BARN? She also looks in the dresser and finds—her locket! So Martha was behind that too! And she’s left it all here together in a big convenient evidence-packet for Gwennie to find! Remember how there was no real reason for the thug to steal the locket? THIS was the reason—so we could have something to prove, at the end, that Martha did it.
Of course Martha is right there, but Gwennie gets away—remember, barefoot in her nightgown—and steals the SUV and makes a break for it! She comes to a gate with a small, insignificant chain holding closed and—well, can’t go THAT way then! Bitch, RAM the gate, you fool! How are we supposed to get behind this girl’s desperate bid to escape when she’s too afraid [and stupid] to just RAM a tiny, insignificant little gate? So she drives over to the barn where she sees the farmhand—and suddenly realizes that he was the thug that attacked her and took her locket! Oh dear, or dear, I hope she can get out of there without effecting any minor, insignificant damage to property! She parks the car and runs through a drain pipe to emerge by the highway. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our heroine is FUCKING DUMB and frankly, deserves to die. Of course the next person to pull up on the highway is Martha, who drags her back home.
Now, you might recall the little matter of the labor-inducing cheesecake, which you might have thought would induce a little labor at some point… but not before the screenplay is ready! So Martha drags Gwennie home and makes her give birth without anesthetic, delivering a baby boy. Now, meanwhile, oblivious moron Jackson is at the races when some total stranger says he made a bid on their farm, but Martha turned it down and THIS—not ANY of his wife’s tearful pleadings—convinces Jackson that something may not be quite right, and he rushes home! Martha is readying a syringe full of morphine that Gwennie knocks out of her hand, and is coming back at her when—suddenly Jackson is home! Well, I guess that horse race was just right around the corner! Either that of Martha decided that she could get some laundry done, maybe stack a few more decaying rats, and can drop back and kill Gwennie you know, whenever. Then Jackson arrives! And you’re thinking something might happen! But—Martha tells him that Gwen is resting, and he should just leave her till later! And the fucking useless putz decides to do just that. You know, Martha really deserves to destroy these morons and rule the world.
So in the early hours of morning Martha is coming to finish off this dumb whiner once and for all but—Jackson is there. Okay, are you ready for the shocking, emotionally-devastating conclusion that will shred your nerves and send you into a rest home to recover? Well, I hope not, because the only shock you’re in for is intensely unexciting the ending here is. Gwennie comes down with a big evil smile on her face, and tells Jackson that actually Martha killed his daddy, not him, and SUDDENLY, INEXPLICABLY, Jackson believes her! Gwennie has scrounged up a duplicate of the horrific farm instrument that killed dear ol’ dad, and it’s—like, a big caulking gun? How the hell is THAT going to kill someone? Jackson SUDDENLY remembers all of it and turns on his mother, saying “Everything about you is a lie!” Then Gwennie slaps her! Can you BELIEVE it? But you know what, that slap REALLY stung. Then they leave Martha alone, which is her worst nightmare. Sure, they’ve just exposed a long-ago murder and a recent murder attempt, but you know what, let’s just let bygones be bygones. They go out to visit Alice, Jackson reunited with his grandmother, and that’s it! The end!
< < < SPOILERS END
So the immediate feeling after the credits come on is one of disbelief that ANYONE could have made such an idiotic movie in which virtually NOTHING happens! That was IT? A few minor inconveniences, some harsh words, a very wan murder attempt, and then—a stern rebuke? THAT is our thriller? It’s just unbelievable. The next impulse is to find producer-writer-director Douglas Wick, drive flaming spikes underneath his skin, and roast him before an angry mob until he is quite dead.
I know there must be some story of how this all went so wrong—but a brief bit of Internet research revealed nothing except a report that the trailer contains footage from a lot of scenes that aren’t in the movie, which indicates serious recutting and problems. As it is, it’s just really the lowest of the low. Gwenyth has a role in which she seems utterly lost, no idea how to play this person, and just comes off as whiny, blank and insipid. Poor Jonathan Schaech as the husband is such a blank he barely even registers, except when you start to think about what an unsupportive asshole he is to his wife, and what a fucking useless dolt he is in general. One keeps waiting for Lange to wring some camp value out of all this, and maybe she tries, but the whole thing is so subdued, and she doesn’t get to do enough evil, that even she can’t do anything to salvage it.
Not to mention that the script is SHIT. It’s full of things like the thug stealing the locket JUST so it can be found at the end, and Jackson revealing the secret of his father’s death JUST so we can find out the truth about it later. In fact, it’s kind of a screenwriting 101 text, as everything is right there on the surface and SO OBVIOUS.
Anyway, there really is no reason for anyone to put themselves through this for any reason. It’s not even that fun and completely unrewarding. I would LOVE to know the story of how it ended up this way—I have to believe that some calamity or mega studio interference happened, because it’s really impossible to believe anyone is stupid enough to make this movie on purpose. Stay far, far away.
Not for any reason.