SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited

A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

Writer/director Nadia Conners earns a seat at the table with her first narrative feature, which tells the story of an acclaimed stage actress turned Hollywood housewife and mother. Her choices, marriage, and relationship to the industry all go under a wide-angle microscope in The Uninvited.

Husband-and-wife Rose (the always magnificent Elizabeth Reaser) and Sammy (Walton Goggins of Justified and husband of Conners) are hosting a garden party in their spacious Hollywood Hills home. All the film’s action takes place within their property’s confines, revealing to some extent the project’s scripting origins as a play. However, the couple’s spacious home and outdoor premises provide ample space for the drama to expand out among a variety of settings. Vague tensions are already palpable before the couple leaves their bedroom where they are dressing for the event.

The party is clearly important to each of them, but in different ways. Sammy, a Hollywood agent, wants to use the occasion to sway his coked-out top client Gerald (Rufus Sewell) to agree to a new offer, and impress the actors he also hopes to snag in the deal: Hollywood star Lucian (Pedro Pascal) and ingénue Delia (Eva De Dominici). In the meantime, Rose has been prepping the house since she leapt out of bed in the morning, while also rueing the relentless aging of her face and tending to her young son. Once heralded for her stage performances, now Rose is rejected for film roles as being too old.

Preparations are still underway when Helen (Lois Smith), a befuddled elderly woman, pulls into the home’s driveway and insists that this is where she lives. Wearing nothing but a slip and oversized sweater, Rose tries to help Helen and brings her inside. As the day progresses, revelations continue to mount as Helen dislodges memories from her past, we learn roguish Hollywood leading man Lucian was Rose’s former lover, Sammy discloses to Rose the true reasons for his desperation for things to go well, and Delia shares an intimate secret with Rose. The story’s central Hollywood women – the ingénue, the former actress, and the long-retired actress – all manifest aspects of the plight of women in Tinseltown, while the men are all jerks of different stripes.

Conner’s dialog and images are succinct and well-crafted, and enough good things cannot be said of this spectacular cast who bring their characters to life with precision and intriguing fascination. Infused with a comic lightness, this is not a purely dramatic situation despite its dark undercurrents. The pacing of the film lags in a few spots but it’s not enough to sink the enterprise. Indeed, the Uninvited is a welcome soirée.

The Uninvited

Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere

Wednesday, March 13, 9:30pm, Stateside
Thursday, March 14, 11am, ZACH Theatre

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SXSW Film 2024, The Uninvited, Nadia Conners, Elizabeth Reaser, Walton Goggins

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