'The Intervention': Sundance Review

The teeny chill.

Actress Clea DuVall’s debut as a writer-director is a throwback to 'The Big Chill' and other such reunion movies.

Are there yuppies anymore? Well, they show up in The Intervention, a cloying throwback to the Big Chill format of a cloistered reunion devoted to self-analysis and errant hanky-panky that in this case features mostly silly and annoying characters with whom it’s no fun to be trapped. A few chuckles and some mild same-sex updating don’t begin to compensate for the hackneyed plot development and lack of fresh comic inspiration, of which there is far more on television at any time of day or night.

Actress Clea DuVall’s debut as a writer-director is crisp and clean-looking, but even the basic set-up seems absurd: A gathering is called by the clueless and obnoxious Annie (Melanie Lynskey) to her family’s preciously gorgeous Savannah country estate in order to stage a “marriage intervention” for her unhappy older sister Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and her emotionally distant husband Peter (Vincent Piazza) in order to convince them to divorce.

Why anyone should want to attend such an event is merely the first of many questions one might pose about the proceedings, but a few other thirtysomethings do show up: There’s Annie’s blandly accommodating fiancé Matt (Jason Ritter) — not for a second do they seem close or suited to one another — as well as third sister Jessie (DuVall), a lesbian who’s there with her partner Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), and pals Jack (Ben Schwartz) and his frisky 22-year-old girlfriend Lola (Alia Shawkat).

The first evening there’s lots of food and drink and, boringly, charades (couldn’t some more modern form of amusement have been hatched?), during which Annie becomes so embarrassingly drunk that the weekend’s agenda can’t even be mentioned, much less addressed.

The night’s various sexual agendas don’t work out too well either, and the next day Annie cluelessly assumes the role of camp counselor, legitimately raising the question of why any of the others even listen to her; she’s the one who needs therapy most of all.

But then no one here seems bright or in the least insightful, and everyone talks the same way, with the same vocabularies and basic outlooks. Nor is there a single mention of anything going on in the outside world, nor any chat about what these people do or dream of doing. Some of the characters, beginning with Matt and closely followed by Peter, don’t register much at all, leading to the thought that DuVall should at least have brought aboard a writing partner to help create more distinctive characters and dialogue.

It’s been clear in other films that at least a couple of the actors here, beginning with Lyonne and Smulders, can deliver with good material, and Shawkat seems to have an offbeat appeal and approach. But The Intervention feels bland and without consequence, as it’s not possible to invest in characters about whom we’re offered so little.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Production: Burn Later Productions
Cast: Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders
Director-screenwriter: Clea DuVall
Producers: Sam Slater, Paul Bernon, Sev Ohanian
Executive producers: Mel Eslyn, Clea DuVall, David Bernon
Director of photography: Polly Morgan
Production designer: Lanie Faith Marie Overton
Costume designer: Alex Simone
Editor: Tamara Meem
Music: Sara Quin
Casting: Amey Rene Morris

Not rated, 87 minutes