Netflix Update No. 66: “How About You?”
June 29, 2012
Every so often, acting trumps story. That’s the case with “How About You?”, a 2007 Irish film based on a short story by Maeve Binchy.
I can’t speak for the short story, but the film is predictable. Thirty-something Kate Harris (Orla Bradley) runs a residence that is occupied by older people, including four who are particularly nasty. Kate’s sister, Ellie (Hayley Atwell), appears unexpectedly to ask Kate to help her finance a trip around the world Ellie is planning with her boyfriend. Kate clearly doesn’t approve of Ellie’s lifestyle but grudgingly gives her a job cleaning the house and attending to the needs of the residents. Ellie develops an interest in sweet, fragile Alice Peterson (Joan O’Hara), and tries to take the edge off Alice’s loneliness — with a little smoke as part of the remedy.
But Ellie has no patience with the sour quartet that includes the widowed former judge Donald Vanston (Joss Ackland); the spinster Nightingale sisters, Heather (Brenda Fricker) and Hazel (Imelda Staunton); and former singer-actress Georgia Platts (Vanessa Redgrave).
As Christmas approaches, most of the residents leave for the holiday, but not these four. Meanwhile, Kate receives word that her mother has suffered a stroke. Kate wants to be with her mother and leaves the reluctant Ellie to manage the house and look after the unholy quartet.
Kate warns Ellie that the house is constantly being inspected by a local health official who could drop in at any time. With Kate gone, Ellie makes an effort to maintain control, but the unreasonable demands of the residents wear out her limited patience.
In her climactic conflict with the group, Ellie confronts them with the unvarnished truth about the way they are living. They take her remarks to heart, and gradually they reveal the events in their past lives that brought them to this house and turned them into such bitter human beings.
I won’t describe how the story turns out, but suffice it to say that not many viewers would be surprised.
In spite of the see-it-coming-a-mile-away resolution, the film is worthwhile because all of the characters are interesting and all of the actors are talented. The most complex figures are the Nightingale sisters, one of whom is a skillful artist and the other a pool shark. We learn only enough about their dark family background to be tantalized, but we never hear the details and we never witness the denouement.
The title of the film is a reference to the song by Burton Lane and Ralph Freed that Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland introduced in the 1941 film Babes on Broadway. The song is heard several times during this movie, including a barroom rendition by Vanessa Redgrave.