There are films that surprise you, and then there are films that you expect to be surprised of, and are instead somewhat let down, as if you can’t help but go “Huh?” after it is over. Housekeeping is a prime example of such a film. You have likely not heard of this film before, but then again, most people probably haven’t heard of a good number of the films on the list, but this one is different; this one isn’t really what one would call a hidden gem, and neither is it one that is unheard of for just reasons. It’s just a very below-the-radar film, the kind that the list editors really seem to love. As for me, I don’t know if I can say I loved this, or even liked it; not because it was a bad film, but because of the material it presented to me.
The film starts off in a manner that reminded me a lot of Walkabout. A mother takes her two daughters to their grandmother’s for a visit, then leaves them at the house, drives off, and kills herself. 7 years later, the grandmother dies, and through a family visit the girls meet their aunt Sylvie, and are left in her care. The character of Sylvie is the central character of the story, even if she is not directly the protagonist; she has the most influence over the plot, and carries the most weight in almost every scene. Since I’m such a fan of TvTropes, and have used tropes from the site in the past in my reviews here, I shall make reference once more to that ever-addictive wiki. Aunt Sylvie, the character, is what TvTropes would call a “Cloudcuckoolander”; her head is always in the clouds, and she seems almost unattached to reality the way a normal person would be. Really, the whole film takes a cue from Terry Gilliam in taking place in a just off-kilter version of reality; not quite real, but not enough of a fantasy. This can be a quite wondrous experience, but with Housekeeping, it is almost always played for pathos. That all being said, I had one other main problem with this film. It opens with a heck of a lot of exposition, courtesy of the narration voiceover from the mind of one of the two main teenagers, and while the voiceover is lessened as the film goes on, it never fully disappears. Virtually everything we are told by the plot up to about the last 15 minutes or so is quite literally TOLD to us by the narration, which as I’ve pointed out in past reviews can either make or break a film, and in this case, it was much more the latter. The film very visibly relied on the expositive narration as a crutch, and it wasn’t a decision that I particularly liked.
I couldn’t help but have an overwhelming feeling of sadness while watching this film. It’s essentially about how a family finds itself separating after the young ones begin to grow up, and how each family member deals with the existential crisis, and in the case of Housekeeping, they don’t handle it all that well. Indeed, the ending may be one of the bleakest to come along in quite some time; it ends not with closure, but with a whimper, and no real implication of what is to come next. It’s largely the ending and the almost unbearable melancholy that this one permeates that make me hesitant to recommend it, but in all honesty, there’s really not a whole lot of fault to be found with this one. Most of the decisions it makes are, yes, somewhat misguided, but the fact that it is risky enough to make those decisions should, in my opinion, be applauded. This is definitely a film I can appreciate for what it does, even if what it does leaves me feeling quite unpleasant or unhappy afterwards. This might be one only for the risk takers, but you’ll find yourself in good company here if you’re one of them.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10