The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Home Sweet Hell

You've got to hand it to Katherine Heigl. She knows what works for her. Perhaps unfortunately, what works for her is playing an uptight, controlling woman. Heigl has taken this sort of role again and again onscreen, in movies like Knocked Up and The Ugly Truth. She does it once more in Home Sweet Hell, an intermittently amusing, but ultimately misguided dark comedy. There's even a hint of self-satire in the performance, as though the actress is poking fun at her previous roles, as well as the “difficult” reputation that has plagued her. It's a bold move that would have paid off if everything surrounding her were as strong.

Heigl plays Mona Champagne,a housewife with a book full of personal/marriage goals and more than a touch of OCD. Her husband Don (Patrick Wilson) runs a furniture store. He's become frustrated with her overly-structured way of life, where even sex must be scheduled in advance. This makes him susceptible to the charms of Dusty (Jordana Brewster), his newest employee. She immediately puts the moves on him, and they begin a torrid affair. But Dusty is after money, and when Mona finds out about the fling, she is determined not to let Don's mistress derail their “perfect” life. There is only one way to deal with the situation, she says: Don has to murder Dusty. This proves substantially difficult, as Don is no killer. What follows is a twisted, increasingly bloody sequence of events that changes the entire fabric of their marriage.

Home Sweet Hell wants to be something of a modern-era War of the Roses, showing how an unhappy marriage can turn people into something they're not, or at least bring all their worst impulses to the surface. There are moments where it's on the verge of succeeding, only to veer off-track. The problem is that the movie's tone veers back and forth too much. Some scenes march fearlessly into the darkest of dark comedy recesses, while others are played quite broadly, as though trying to let us know that we shouldn't take all this nastiness too seriously. The latter half of that equation is deadly for dark comedies. We're supposed to laugh because we're uncomfortable and because the characters go to places no mentally stable person would go. When the movie is throwing off a Just kidding! vibe, it takes some of the sting out of the jokes.

The tone tends to be split along cast member lines. Heigl gets the best scenes, and she revels in the outright meanness that Mona is (finally) allow to revel in. We sense that all this has been repressed for years, and now that she has an excuse to unleash it, she isn't holding back. Mona does some truly vile things, especially in the third act. Heigl doesn't shy away from being unlikeable here, which is a testament to the strength of her performance. (Her delivery of a line wishing a horrific death to a Crohn's sufferer is the funniest bit in the film.) Patrick Wilson, on the other hand, is instructed to play Don in wide-eyed, mouth-agape fashion that feels more suited to a Nickelodeon sitcom than a comedy about infidelity and murder.

This brings up perhaps the biggest hurdle Home Sweet Hell faces. This is Don's story, when it should be Mona's. Because it's told from his POV, the movie is about a hapless schmuck caught between two undesirable women: a shameless gold digger and a cold, heartless shrew. (Not a very complimentary view of the fairer sex here.) Everything would have been much funnier if it were centered around the idea of a frustrated wife trying desperately to cling to the nice family life she's built, and subsequently going overboard. More motivation exists in this scenario, which in turn would have created more opportunity for laughter.

It is also bizarre that Home Sweet Hell resolves a major plot point via sound effects playing over the end credits. These kinds of odd choices prove limiting. There are some cleverly sick twists in the plot, and Katherine Heigl is admirably game to send herself up. But director Anthony Burns and screenwriters Carlo Allen, Ted Elrick, and Tom Lavagnino end up undermining their material with some choices that soften the impact of a story that's intended to be edgy. You can't make a “nice” movie about murder.

( out of four)

Home Sweet Hell is rated R for violence, language, sexual content and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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