The Intervention – Review (Sundance Film Festival: London)

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On the surface, this wonderfully worthy mumblecore effort is easy to dismiss, but stick with it and you’ll find a deft touch from writer, director and star Clea Duvall.

Four couples find themselves convening for a weekend getaway in the country. Jessie (Clea Duvall) and Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) fly in together for a hastily arranged gathering. The couple are joined by engaged pair Annie (Melanie Lynskey) and Matt (Jason Ritter), who are perpetually on the verge of getting married. Annie’s best friend Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and her husband Pete (Vincent Piazza) are constantly bickering and their relationship is clearly on the rocks. Rounding up the group are Pete’s friend Jack (Ben Schwartz) and his new girlfriend Lola (Alia Shawkat).

Annie has arranged the whole weekend to perform an intervention and tell Ruby and Pete that they should get divorced. The others have been enlisted to help, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but are any of the relationships going to make it through the next few days?

Predominantly taking place in one location, the film does at times veer towards a melodramatic stage production, but Duvall has enough experience on the screen to know just how to keep this film on course. The couples are all in different phases of their relationships. Annie is the one forcing this intervention, with her manic obsession often fuelled by alcohol and her own anxieties. Lynskey is excellent as the comic light relief, as things escalate quickly.

Smulders and Piazza represent a marriage in decay after years of neglect. Both actors bring out deep-seated issues that come out after having spent so much time together. Piazza does seething brilliantly, but its Smulders who excels with a weary approach that is meant to be painful to watch at times. The star of How I Met Your Mother and The Avengers tackles her character head on, and even in scenes that could be otherwise overwrought, her approach maintains a level of believability and exasperation that is crucial to the film working.

Duvall gives herself one of the more thankless roles as Jessie, a woman who is unable to commit to her girlfriend, even though they love each other. Tempting Jessie is Lola, the young partner of Jack, who is a bohemian free-spirit who is out of place in this group. And yet the point is that they are all out of place. They are all in different mindsets which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to appreciate where each other are. The viewer is also with Annie, for the most part, in wishing that Ruby and Pete split. Their arguments involve calling one another Nazi-sympathisers and racists… in front of a dining table full of guests, and those are some of the kinder words they have for each other.

As director, Duvall manages to maintain a zinging pace throughout what is essentially a therapy session gone awry.

Duvall manages to maintain a zinging pace throughout

The concept of love conquering all takes a back seat in the story. Duvall cleverly draws a line between romance and happiness, which in turn handily sidesteps any number of potentially cliché-filled pitfalls. What’s especially impressive about this, is that The Intervention is the debut feature from the director.

Although things get a little cluttered towards the end, the clarity of thought somewhat lost after the intervention actually occurs, the performances continue to impress. Annie’s own downfall could have been played for laughs but is instead surprisingly tender.

The Intervention is a hugely impressive first feature from a director who has insider knowledge of what it takes to make it in the industry.

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About Cassam Looch

Cassam Looch has been watching films ever since his first trip to the cinema to catch Care Bears: The Movie and writing about them after a traumatic incident involving Moonwalker. If he's not hassling celebrities on the red carpet, he'll usually be found in the darkened screening rooms of Soho.

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