It's easy to understand why such a terrific ensemble cast signed on for the directorial debut of Dean Craig, screenwriter of Death at a Funeral. There's promise here in an epically naughty and politically incorrect spin on the whole "family fights over inheritance" storyline centered around the pending death of one Aunt Hilda (Kathleen Turner), seemingly the only financial success in a family otherwise filled with financial failures, bumblers, sex offenders, and wannabes.
Unfortunately, despite our fondness for such familiar faces as Toni Collette, Anna Faris, Ron Livingston, and Rosemarie Dewitt, The Estate can never quite decide if it wants to be a pitch black comedy or an off-kilter family farce and ends up being too tentative in its approach to ever convincingly become either one. The end result ends up being an immensely talented cast that flounders amidst the uncertainty. There's even a point in The Estate where you can practically feel the entire ensemble turning it off as if they've figured out The Estate isn't going anywhere other than straight-to-video and soon to be forgotten.
The Estate kicks off with Macey (Collette) and Savanna (Faris) being rejected for a loan that would save the family restaurant, a restaurant that looks like it would take much more than a loan to actually save. When they find out that their Aunt Hilda, whom they haven't seen in years because she's a bit**, is terminally ill, the two decide to pay a sudden visit to get in her good graces and inherit her wealth. Their far more prim and proper cousin Beatrice (Dewitt) and her husband (Livingston) have beaten them to the punch, however, and we're off to the races to determine who can cheat who on the way to the grand prize. Because we're not quite perverted enough yet, cousin Richard (David Duchovny), think Dick, shows up to amp up the icky factor.
If you were to put together a compilation video of all the worst Saturday Night Live skits, it would likely resemble something along the lines of The Estate. There's not a likable character to be found here, a perfectly legit approach if one commits to it but Craig seems unsure of himself throughout The Estate and that hesitancy radiates throughout an ensemble that never quite gels and never comes close to finding a rhythm.
This doesn't mean there aren't moments that work, much of them due to Duchovny's hilariously dark take on Richard as an overt perv who's long harbored a crush on cousin Macey and isn't afraid to act on it. Kathleen Turner's iconic raspy voice is used well here as Hilda is well aware she's surrounded by manipulatie a**holes who are just after her money.
Holding his own against more familiar names, Danny Vinson shines as Bill, Hilda's former high school crush who's now a strung out sex offender who makes Pigpen look like a neat freak but still may be the answer to Hilda's sexually frustrated final days.
Or maybe not.
The Estate often feels like a Farrelly Brothers rough draft, though I think we all know that the Farrelly's wouldn't be nearly as hesitant and would instead go full-on balls to the walls. Quite literally.
It doesn't help that The Estate often looks like a low-budget indie, Darin Moran's lensing failing to add a desperately needed spark of life and Annette Davey's editing contributing to the film's awkward pacing and disjointed assembly.
Again, it's easy to understand why such a fine ensemble signed on for the promising Craig's directorial debut. There's promise galore here and it's that sense of promise around every corner that makes it all the more disappointing that The Estate never lights a spark and ends up being the latest in a long line of films to simply squander its tremendous potential. The Estate isn't an awful film by any means, though one can't help but think it's not even close to the film this ensemble signed up for and are capable of making.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic