The Estate

The Estate is not the first movie about a family fighting over an inheritance, but it's certainly one of the wittiest. Right off the bat, we meet sisters Macey (Toni Collette) and Savanna (Anna Faris). They've gone into business together, and that business is on the verge of collapse. Making the situation worse is that Macey's boyfriend is about to be transferred to Alaska. It's a move he has to make because he needs the paycheck. The only way he can stay is if she supports him, which she most definitely cannot do.

Savanna has a plan. Their rich aunt Hilda (Kathleen Turner) is terminally ill. If they can convince her to make them the beneficiaries of her estate before she croaks, they'll be free and clear. The women are not the only ones with eyes on Hilda's money, though. Their snooty, unhappily married cousin Beatrice (Rosemarie DeWitt) is also making a play for the dough, to the dismay of her harried husband James (Ron Livingston). Cousin Richard (David Duchovny), who has long been trying to hook up with Macey, is looking for a piece of the action, too. Actually, he wants action on multiple counts.

Writer/director Dean Craig devises very devious, clever ways for these family members to conspire. The centerpiece of The Estate is a plan Macey and Savannah come up with to reunite Hilda with her high school crush. If they can get her laid one last time in life, she'll undoubtedly be indebted to them. A scene where they go to the guy's place and try to convince him, only to find that he's not what they imagined, is hysterical. Much of the movie's fun is in seeing how low the characters will stoop, and how viciously they try to slit one another's throats. Sharp dialogue adds to the impact, with the family members spewing amusingly vicious insults.

A stellar ensemble cast brings the intermittently preposterous story to life. Toni Collette gives yet another phenomenal performance as Macey. Her job is to infuse the movie with an emotional center. Macey is easily the most likeable of the clan because she does terrible things for a semi-noble cause, unlike her relatives, who are simply driven by greed. Collette's scenes with the sassy Faris are a joy to watch. DeWitt and Livingston, meanwhile, create an amusingly dysfunctional marital dynamic for their characters. David Duchovny is hilarious as the slick, sleazy Richard, who thinks it's totally acceptable for first cousins to have sex, and Kathleen Turner steals the show as the feisty Aunt Hilda, bringing a perfect “grand dame” quality to the woman she's playing. The actress lets us know that Hilda is aware of what's going on at some level, perhaps even subtly enjoying watching her family make jackasses of themselves.

The Estate makes you laugh, yet it also makes shrewd observations about family relationships and the corrupting power of money. Fighting over the cash brings buried resentments to life, allowing us to understand that these people were already on a collision course. Hilda's illness just hit the accelerator. Even though the characters' personalities are slightly exaggerated for comedic purposes, you might find yourself identifying with the issues between them. And who among us doesn't know a family – maybe our own, maybe a friend's – that tore itself apart clamoring for a piece of the inheritance in the wake of a death? The story points out that family bonds are strong, but not necessarily unbreakable.

One fairly significant element of the film is a total bust. Macey and Savannah have another sister, Ellen (played by Keyla Monterroso Mejia), who's into Dungeons & Dragons and is perpetually dressed in game-appropriate wardrobe. All of that is the sort of forced wackiness you'd find in a bad sitcom. Mejia's performance seems like it's out of a different movie, too. That stumble aside, The Estate proves to be a smart, funny movie about people behaving very badly.

out of four

The Estate is rated R for pervasive language, crude/sexual material, graphic nudity and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.