The House of Mirth
Adapted and Directed by Terrence Davies
Staring Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Eric Stoltz
Some women make astoundingly poor choices in men. Not Miss Lily Bart (Anderson), though. She has the opposite problem — her standards are always just a bit too high. As an orphan on the fringes of 1905 New York Society, she keeps rejecting men that she probably ought to nab. First it’s the shy, boring, but astonishingly rich Mr. Percy Gryce (Pearce Quigley). Then it’s the ambiguous Lawrence Seldon (Stoltz), who may or may not be a confirmed bachelor. As the field narrows, her choices lower in quality. Married Gus Tenor (Aykroyd) will keep her, if she wants, but she doesn’t. Then George Doreset (Terry Kinney) offers to divorce his run around wife Bertha (Laura Linney). Lily actually has a bunch of love letters from Bertha to Seldon — she bought them at a yard sale — but doesn’t want to disgrace someone like Seldon or Bertha or herself. Then she boots fabulously wealthy Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia). He’s just a bit too Jewish for her high society, and now Lily’s getting a tatty reputation, like a dress that’s been returned to Wal-Mart a few times to often. With gambling debts and addiction to Chloral Hydrate (sort of like Valium, except it tastes like bleach), Lily is reduced to working for a living, first as a Lady’s secretary, then as a milliner, both jobs for which she is eminently unsuited. Even when cranky old auntie Money Bags dies, Lily gets written out of the will. It’s OD time.
This film has the most outstanding sets and costumes. The aura of moneyed NYC during the days of the Rich Man’s Panic comes across on a set dripping with the post Victorian bric-a-brac. Even Lily’s slummy apartment at number 57 Quaint Street has massive walnut armoires and desks, the sort of things to go gaga over on Antiques Roadshow. Mirth projects a feeling of ennui and cash toxicity, put forth by a competent set of actors, but there’s no mirth in any of the action and the film lacks any sense of urgency. Lily is making fatal mistake after fatal mistake, and no one bothers to mention it on screen or on in the audience. Lily is marriageable, sexy, and feisty, but she hasn’t the sense God gave a frog to grab the first guy with a bank account that doesn’t smell and won’t beat her. Lily is a fool, and high society loves fools, so long as they bring their own cash. Too bad she’s just spent hers.