Bob describes his new French manor home as a “humble pied a terre” while his wife Anne greets their VIP guests with barely contained self-satisfaction. Anne doesn’t know that Bob (Harvey Keitel) is concealing their looming bankruptcy – he has to sell a family heirloom just to keep things running but he still presents his wife new jewels ahead of the dinner party. Anne (Toni Colette) doesn’t bother to conceal that she isn’t pleased when Bob’s son Steven shows up at the last minute, upsetting the symmetry of her place settings. In a crunch, she invites her loyal maid Maria (Rossy de Palma) to dine with them, posing as a Spanish noblewoman, though Maria believes it’s a sin to tell a lie.
Oh boy. But you know what? Even with terrific advice like “be impossible” and “don’t talk like a maid,” it turns out the biggest risk is not that they’ll be found out, but that the lie will be too well accepted – a Brit described as a “dandy” falls for Maria, and pretty soon it’s Anne is in hot pursuit of her own maid, who’s being courted all over town.
The film itself looks sumptuous but feels rather light, rather flimsy. I don’t need much of an excuse to watch a Toni Collette movie, and even a not great Toni Collette movie is good enough for me. She’s such a joy to watch onscreen, even when she’s plotting and jealous and really kind of heinous. I could watch her nostrils flare with impatience all day long. Rossy De Palma proves a worthy adversary. Since Collette is the bad witch, De Palma is the good, the very good. All eyes on her. The truth is, this movie endeared itself to me the minute I saw Harvey Keitel bicycling in a jaunty scarf.
There’s more to this movie than it even knows itself. Anne and Bob are clearly struggling but don’t have the words for it, and maybe don’t care enough to try. So the thing with Maria is just a convenient escape, and the true reasons for Anne’s obsessive sabotage are many if not always obvious. The cast is talented enough to hint at things that perhaps the script was not strong enough to bring forth. For me this movie was still worth it – I could watch Toni Collette mow a lawn and be satisfied – and it was perhaps a bit of a stopgap between be knowing I should really be watching Hereditary but not yet having the courage to do it.