House of Mirth

Stars:    Gillian Anderson, Anthony LaPaglia, Dan Aykroyd, Eric Stoltz
Director/Writer:   Terence Davies (from the novel by Edith Wharton)

Period films about manners of high society tend to be colossal bores in many cases. I thought  The Golden Bowl just such a film for its sterile characters and uninteresting script. Happily,  The House of Mirth does not fall in its shadow. Admittedly, slow moving at the start, this film snaps-to upon the appearance of Dan Aykroyd’s character when he unleashes his treachery upon the unsuspecting gal about town, Lily Bart, played with true expertise by TV’s famous X-Filer, Gillian Anderson.

Lily Bart is a witty socialite who’s ahead of her time about marriage and a woman’s place in society. She’s pursued by a number of suitors, including: the unsuitable married one (Dan Aykroyd’s Gus Trenor) and the uninteresting “new money” hotelier (Anthony LaPaglia’s Sim Rosedale). The one she finds thoroughly attractive and makes great sport of is good friend Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) who she discovers had an illicit affair with another good friend of hers, Bertha Dorset (Laura Linney). Alas, poor Lawrence is a working stiff, a mere lawyer and both he and Lily are looking for finer lives with wealthy mates. And Lily is quite satisfied to wait as long as she has to for that special man.

But Lily soon finds herself struggling to stay on top of the upper crust when her debts become unmanageable. She goes from enjoying lavish dances and weekend gatherings in the country among rich friends to servitude, always too proud to ask for help until it is way too late. Her fall from grace is hard and pitiful.

Lotta says the characters are well conceived and well acted. Anderson reveals herself to be a truly fine actress. The story holds your interest. There’s good drama here. Melodramatic? Absolutely, but it’s well structured.

Reviewed: 6/21/01