Variations on a Theme: The Intervention and other Emotional Weekend Movies

This weekend I spent too much money renting The Intervention, a 2016 movie written and directed by Clea DuVall about a group of friends who decide to stage an intervention for a friend’s marriage.

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I didn’t hesitate to spend the $6.99 on it because A. I have no self control and B. it is my favorite type of movie. I am somewhat at a loss for how to describe its genre, but it usually involves a group of friends (or family) who spend a weekend together in one house and over the course of the weekend confront each other about their various problems. They begin with characters pretending their lives are a certain way and over the course of the weekend those facades slowly get chipped away. How do you classify this? Bottle weekends with ensemble casts? Independent dramedies for Labor Day?

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While The Big Chill might be the foundational text for this type, it was not my introduction to it. That honor probably goes to The Family Stone. In my mind, this genre includes Dan in Real LifeAbout AlexThis is Where I Leave You, etc. (August: Osage County counts, but it’s considerably darker). These movies usually include:

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Someone breaking up
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Someone getting together
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Group games
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A new person
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A suppressed tragedy
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A contentious dinner
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A fight
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And an emotional reconciliation

The genre is a winning formula: get a bunch of fairly-good to excellent actors in a house for a weekend and have them talk. No story line gets to dominate, so if you hate one it’s not that big of a deal. The ensemble keeps mixing up the characters, so you can see the varying levels of chemistry and believable relationships. Chances are you’ll find one of them convincing.

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Which brings me to my discussion of The Intervention. It’s a perfectly watchable movie, featuring an ensemble of Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Alia Shawkat, Ben Schwartz, Jason Ritter, and Melanie Lynskey. There are couples unable to make commitments. There’s a young girlfriend who’s never met any of them before. There’s a death they don’t talk about. It’s pretty boilerplate.

 

But I’m not here for the plot; I’m here for standout performances. Lynskey (of Comanche Moon fame) really shines for me.

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Her persistence at throwing the perfect intervention is beautiful to watch, especially as it shows the cracks in her own character’s personality.

While I disliked his character’s backstory (death is a cheap way to ask for audience sympathy), I am always excited to see Ben Schwartz. His concern and support for his friend is truly touching to watch.

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And Jason Ritter excels as always at playing the kind, average dude who is sad, but does what is expected.

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It is of course entirely reductive to compare The Intervention to The Big Chill, as this review and this review do. DuVall isn’t trying to capture the voice of a generation; she isn’t really making a social statement at all. Her imitative moments are nowhere near as blatant as About Alex. Instead, she’s interested in commitments and relationships. Can people ever understand someone else’s relationship?

Sure, many of the big plot points don’t work. The relationships between some of the characters were contrived and unbelievable. But the point of these movies isn’t the plot or even necessarily the character’s journeys. It’s the small moments between characters. It’s the feeling of hanging out with them. It’s the way these movies allow you to drape your own backstories and relationships on the characters.

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So see it or don’t. I’d give it a B-/C+ when compared to others in this genre. But compared to the other movies that have come out this year, it’s a solid A.

2 thoughts on “Variations on a Theme: The Intervention and other Emotional Weekend Movies

  1. Excellent post! I love your obvious love of this sub-genre “bottle weekends with ensemble casts”! Great breakdown. I now want to see it and I totally understand your dual “compared to others”/”this year” rating. (Also, hilarious Comanche Moon shout-out.) You’re a gem.

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    1. this movie seemed wierd! it reminds me of when i was sixteen and my stepbrother greg was getting married and we had an intervention for him too! we were all like greg you cant get married youre a cokehead and hes like i dont need a family jemma youre not even my real sister and then he kicked down a door and drove off with sharon in moms car but its okay cause family is really important and i havent seen greg in so long but i heard sharon was in iraq for a little bit

      Liked by 1 person

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