Housekeeping (1987) starring Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, Andrea Burchill, Anne Pitoniak, Barbara Reese, Margot Pinvidic, Georgie Collins directed by Bill Forsyth Movie Review

Housekeeping (1987)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Christine Lahti as Sylvie in Housekeeping (1987)

Who Lives in a Quirky House Like This

First thing about "Housekeeping" this is a movie which has been called a comedy, it isn't but it is quirky, even peculiar but not funny in a traditional ha-ha sense. Secondly "Housekeeping" is so quirky that I am pretty sure that to fully appreciate the story you need to have read Marilynne Robinson's novel which Bill Forsyth adapted. But even without reading the original story you can still understand and enjoy this movie, it just takes longer for you to cotton on to the fact that this is a story about non-conformity in a conformist society, where being quirky and a bit loopy is unsettling to others.

After being dumped at their Grandmothers before their mother committed suicide Ruth (Sara Walker) and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) find growing up quite dull until they end up in the care of their eccentric Aunt Sylvie (Christine Lahti). With long rambling walks, a penchant for collecting newspapers and tin cans she is completely unconventional much to the annoyance of Lucille who wants to live a normal life and tries to get Ruth to want the same.

Andrea Burchill and Sara Walker in Housekeeping (1987)

To explain how offbeat and quirky "Housekeeping" is we have the start which sees Ruth and Lucille left at their Grandmothers after a long drive with their mother driving off. We then see that the car has got stuck in some mud and she asks 3 boys to give her a push out which they do and after stopping to thank them then intentionally drives off a cliff right in front of them. It is strange and slightly disturbing but then so much of this movie is strange and disturbing, mixing quirky with the peculiar and the damn right weird. The thing is because it is so quirky, as we go from one slightly strange scene to the next it can lead you to wonder what is going on.

Now what is going on is that with quirky Aunt Sylvie looking after Ruth and Lucille after their mother and grandmother die we get a split. There is some deep connection between Ruth and Sylvie as they act differently to what society expects much to the annoyance of Lucille who craves normality. And so for all the quirkiness "Housekeeping" comes down to a story all about how those who act a little different, and in some cases very different, come under the microscope of those in society who feel threatened by something which isn't normal. So when Sylvie collects newspapers and tin cans it is seen as being strange as is her penchant for long lazy walks.

Here is the thing, it's not hard to spot that "Housekeeping" is about normality and quirkiness colliding even if it does take a bit of time. But then I get a real sense that some elements such as the symbolism of parallel lines only fully becomes clear to those who have read the original novel. Maybe I missed something, maybe there wasn't anything to miss but because there is such a curious nature to what director Bill Forsyth has delivered that you just feel that you are missing out on something.

What is good though is the casting and in particular that of Christine Lahti as Sylvie because she delivers this curious character perfectly. On one hand we have the eccentricity of Sylvie, the pockets full of money and rubbish, the shining of tin cans, the collecting of papers which could all have made her slightly loopy. But then we get a sense that Sylvie isn't loopy but chooses not to lead a conformist lifestyle and purposefully tries to be different such as when she sleeps on a park bench during the daytime. It means that whilst Sara Walker and Andrea Burchill are both good as Ruth and Lucille it is Lahti who grabs your attention for being different but also kind of aloof.

What this all boils down to is that "Housekeeping" is a strange but entertaining movie. But it is a movie which I get a sense that if you have read Marilynne Robinson's original novel it opens up to you more than if you only watch Bill Forsyth's adaptation.