The House of Mirth

Directed by Terence Davies
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Eric Stoltz, Laura Linney, Anthony LaPaglia, Dan Aykroyd, Elizabeth McGovern.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
January 19, 2001

It's now been 13 days since I have seen Terence Davies' adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. I just haven't had the time to write anything in a while, and now my memory of this film is fading. I've seen several others since then which also have to be reviewed. I can't guarantee much insight into the film, but as a writer, I'm never at a loss for words, meaningful or not.

Gillian Anderson stars as Lily Bart, a single woman in New York in 1907 -- many decades before Sex and the City ever aired. She intimidates men with her beauty and wit, which helps her attain short-term goals, but does little to land her a husband. She's a respected member of society, but like many of her peers, her old money is running out. She's had an intermittent relationship with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) over the years, but his money was lost long ago and he must now (gasp!) work for a living. He won't make a good husband, so she looks elsewhere.

Pickings are slim for Lily, whose penchant for gambling and advanced age of nearly 30 make her a less desirable mate. She stumbles upon one way to pay off her mounting debt, but it requires her to betray two close friends. A cleaning woman found love letters that Lily's married friend Bertha (Laura Linney) had written to Lawrence, which she could sell for a lucrative price to many parties.

Instead, she holds onto them and heads down a torturous path of self-pity. House of mirth, indeed. Not having read Wharton's novel, I had no idea just how ironic the title was. It's an incredibly depressing tragedy that will keep you crying for hours. Anderson's performance is a major departure from her role on "The X-Files", and she makes the film quite powerful.

Despite this surprising performance and the gallons of tears it should generate, The House of Mirth is quite long, and often difficult to sit through. There are enough moments to make it worthwhile, but it involves a wholehearted investment. If you want light entertainment, go see Miss Congeniality.

Hey, that gives me an idea: Fox should make an episode of "The X-Files" where Scully has to enter a beauty pageant! She discovers which contestant is a shape-shifting alien, and plunges that pen knife thing into its neck. Then, the pageant continues, and Scully gets first runner-up. The winner pulls off a latex mask and surprise: it's Mulder! So that's where he's been hiding. OK, I've definitely strayed too far from my subject, which is a sure sign that I should stop writing. Let's hope my next review goes better.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The House of Mirth (2000)

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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan