The House of Mirth (2000)


Reviewer: Charity Bishop


I have to admit with open honesty that this is one of the few movies I thought would never end. It dragged endlessly, had a totally depressing and dull storyline, and even the performances didn't elevate my interest. The only nice thing about it was the beautiful costuming... but I can get the same effect by looking in my grandmother's photo albums or sticking An Ideal Husband into the DVD player. Something about this movie just didn't work for me. It might be a matter of personal preference, but just in case it isn't, allow me to warn you against a piece of eye candy with a dark tone.


Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson) is a New York socialite who must find a husband by the end of the season. She is very popular in general but no one of a marriageable nature has shown an intimate interest in her. Not being of the nature to 'auction herself off to the highest bidder,' she instead turns her attentions to pursuing her individuality... and spending time with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), a coy, outspoken, and charming barrister. In the meantime, her lavish lifestyle has incurred many debts that she is unable to repay. Relying primarily on the charity of friends, Lily struggles for financial independence. But even her plight cannot convince Lawrence she is of the marrying kind and he cannot her out of her forthcoming bankruptcy. Deeply in debt, Lily turns to a wealthy older man and friend Gus Trenor for help. But his generosity has strings attached... he'll help her climb out of her predicament if she agrees to become his mistress.


Shocked and appalled by his intentions, she seeks solace elsewhere. But her aunt has caught wind of her extravagant spending habits and threatens to cut off her small annual salary. In her struggle to maintain the friendships she sees breaking around her and keep out of the poorhouse, Lily will receive a piece of information that could be beneficial to her but would also harm the man she loves. The film is very beautiful to look but that is about the extent of its depth. Extravagant costumes cannot cover the poor character development and stinting acting. Anderson stumbles along for about an hour in her role, remaining entirely unconvincing in her part until the later half.


Many of the other actors also leave much to be desired and the production's decision to film much of the story in darkened interiors leaves one with the feeling of being cheated out of late Victorian-era architecture. The content of the film is hardly a problem when one overlooks the overall depressing and melodramatic turn the production takes in the final half. A few light profanities and several hints at extramarital affairs in other people's lives intrude through dialogue and mild intimations. Trenor makes it very clear he wants more from Lilly than a thank you; Lawrence's past also includes some rather disagreeable exchanges. Lily's 'friend' Bertha carries on one affair after another with all manner of men and then accuses Lilly of being too forward in public with her husband. Perhaps I'm prejudiced or don't like movies with a 'downer' ending. I enjoy movies with a darker twist but that end up in the light. Unfortunately this film has no such redeeming turn. I foresaw the twist long before it entered the story and was almost rooting for the characters to hurry up to the climax. It seemed to drag endlessly. It's a depressing, fairly vulnerable film that opens itself up to ridicule. You will either like it or hate it; unfortunately there is no in-between.