'Isn't It Delicious': Film Review

Isn't It Delicious Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Empekay Kayjaykay Productions

Isn't It Delicious Still - H 2014

More likely to leave a bitter aftertaste

Vetreran stage actress Kathleen Chalfant has a long-overdue cinematic starring role in this dramedy about the dying matriarch of a dysfunctional family

Regular New York theatergoers have always appreciated the talents of Kathleen Chalfant thanks to her sublime performances in the original productions of such modern classics as Wit and Angels in America. So the prospect of seeing this veteran actress in a long-overdue, big-screen, starring role in the indie feature Isn't It Delicious was a promising one. But despite Chalfant's stellar work as a flinty, dying matriarch of a highly dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family, Michael Patrick Kelly's clumsily executed, low-budget feature is an unfortunate misfire.  

As the film begins, Joan Weldon (Chalfant) finds herself faced with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer to which she responds by smoking and drinking even more heavily than usual. Her long-suffering husband, Bill (Keir Dullea), still smarting over her adulterous affair many years earlier, reacts with stoicism, encouraging her to start chemotherapy and ordering an oxygen tank without her knowledge.

Her children Bobby, Teddy and Caroline — yes, they're named after the Kennedys — take the news much harder even though they're heavily distracted by their own problems. Successful stockbroker Bobby (Nick Stevenson, Orange Is the New Black) is a coke addict newly engaged to a sexy stripper who pathetically attempts to ingratiate herself to her future in-laws. Alcoholic lesbian Caroline (stage vet Alice Ripley of Next to Normal and Side Show, making her feature film debut), is struggling with work and relationship issues. Teddy (Jonah Young) is a practicing Buddhist who urges his mother to seek out holistic medicine even while providing her with marijuana to offset the chemo's bad effects. He also takes her to see a Buddhist monk, who delivers a parable that provides the film its title.

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The tonally inept film clumsily veers from melodrama to farcical comedy, with director Kelly providing bizarre stylistic touches that prove endlessly jarring. A scene in which Joan throws a steak into the backyard to be devoured by their pet dog is scored to the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey in a distracting nod to Dullea's famous screen role. And a black-and-white flashback features only the color red, which didn't even work when Spielberg tried it in Schindler's List.

But it's the problematic script by Kelly and Kathleen J. Kiley that's the true problem. It does work well enough in its quietly reflective moments; however, the characters and situations, such as a family argument that results in Bobby throwing a newly bought $10,000 engagement ring down a sewer, reflect a broad approach that seems more appropriate for a sitcom.

Chalfant delivers a bravely unsympathetic and consistently compelling turn, with Dullea's subtle underplaying providing a nice contrast. But the supporting cast, many of them drawn from the theater, too often seems to be pitching their performances to the cheap seats.

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By the time the family gets up to dance the hokey-pokey at the climactic funeral, with Joan's ghost rising from her coffin to happily join in, Isn't It Delicious has long since belied its title.   

Production: Skyline NYC Productions, Empekay Kayjaykay Productions
Cast: Kathleen Chalfant, Keir Dullea, Alice Ripley, Mia Dillon, Nick Stevenson, Jonah Young, Alexandra Mingione
Director-producer: Michael Patrick Kelly
Screenwriters: Kathleen J. Kiley, Michael Patrick Kelly
Executive producer: Alfred Caiola
Director of photography: Axel Fischer
Editors: David Charles Pisani, Tina Grapenthin
Composer: David Amram

No rating, 104 min.