The Intervention, a film by Clea Duvall (the lesbian bodyguard in Veep) that opens Friday at the Cedar Lee, follows in the grand and rustic tradition of 2013's Drinking Buddies and 2014's About Alex: films that examine the freighted relationships of their principal characters during weekend vacations at cabins and/or lake houses. It's a veritable subgenre! And its central signpost is setting, close quarters conducive to emotional collision.
Here, eight friends gather for a weekend together at the family estate of sisters Jessica (writer-director Duvall) and Ruby (How I Met Your Mother's Cobie Smulders) in the lushly willowed outskirts of Savannah, Georgia. Unbeknownst to Ruby and her husband Peter (Vincent Piazza, Jersey Boys), the other six have secretly conspired to host a "marriage intervention," hoping to coax Ruby and Peter toward divorce. Ruby and Peter are unhappy in all the visible ways you'd expect — constant bickering, zero sex — and their lifelong friends are eager to intercede.
Some of them anyway. The Intervention logistics are spearheaded by Annie (Melanie Lynskey) and Jessica. Peter's best friend Jack (Parks and Recreation's Ben Schwartz), whose wife Mary died the previous year and who, to the consternation of all, has brought along a new flame named Lola (Alia Shawkat), has been opposed all along.
When Annie gets blind drunk on night one, frazzled by the impending awkwardness, it's Ruby who suggests talking to her about her drinking problem, but Peter disagrees. Jack seizes on the opportunity to abort the mission.
"So you think people should work out their own problems on their own?" he muses. No dice.
Circumstances thus ripened, can we expect shit to do anything but hit every available fan? The ghastly intervention idea becomes a prism through which each of the four couples examines its own dysfunction. Jess and her girlfriend Sarah (Orange is the New Black's Natasha Lyonne) have been dating for three years but don't live together. Is that normal? Annie and her easygoing fiancé Matt (Jason Ritter, who also, oddly enough, played Alex in About Alex) are a few months out from a wedding they've already postponed three times. It looks like they might have to postpone again. What gives? Is Jack really over the death of his wife? And anyway, what's he doing with an admittedly insightful, but perilously promiscuous 22-year-old?
The script isn't electric from line-to-line and lacks the vivid naturalism of Drinking Buddies, but individual scenes succeed, popping with tension and humor. We recognize the latent hostility, intimacy and emotional dynamism that attend groups of friends who have been hanging out forever and therefore know each other's secrets. The cast, though, is sometimes a clunky assortment of personalities and types. But for one scene late in the movie, it's tough to buy Jack and Peter as best friends. Likewise Ruby and Annie, who's alcohol-induced goofball-ism doesn't quite land alongside Ruby or Jess or Sarah, who are taking proceedings very seriously indeed.
Stretched to its max at 85 minutes and chock-full of character actors from prime-time TV comedies, The Intervention has the collegial feel of something filmed on-location in more or less real time. Performances are solid, even if the ensemble is tonally jumbled. The buildup to the inevitable climax isn't particularly elegant or context-rich, and the relationship dramas themselves, despite specific gimmicks (Ruby in crutches) and emotional moments (a retaliatory kiss-fest), are all fairly archetypal, which is a highbrow way of saying generic.