Fantasia 2019: “Homewrecker” Wants to Be Friends 4-Ever

Homewrecker Alex Essoe in Homewrecker (Fantasia Festival)

Zach Gayne’s psychological thriller/comedy about female friendship starts out strong, but quickly loses its way.

(This review is part of our coverage of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.)

Much has been written, often by cynical men, about the nature of female friendship. If it’s all to be believed, most platonic relationships between women are simmering with repressed jealousy and resentment, if not outright hatred. Zach Gayne’s Homewrecker parodies this, with less than successful results.

Alex Essoe (star of the vastly underrated Starry Eyes) is Michelle, a meek interior decorator who’s trying to get pregnant, even if her husband doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about it. She draws the attention of Linda (Precious Chong), who goes to the same gym as Michelle and makes an immediate beeline for her at a nearby coffee shop. Even though Linda, who comes off as a human “Live Love Laugh” sign, is probably old enough to be Michelle’s mother, she latches onto her with the instant BFF enthusiasm one would see in a middle school lunchroom.

Inviting Michelle to her house under the pretense of wanting it redecorated, it’s clear that what Linda really wants is her time and companionship. Though Michelle is obviously uncomfortable with Linda’s aggressive good cheer (let alone her inability to take “no” for an answer), she passively goes along with her demands, even blowing off the rest of her afternoon so they can watch a movie together. Even when Michelle insists that she must leave, it’s not without an apology and reassurances that she likes Linda and enjoys her company.

Here’s the thing, though: when Linda says she wants to be best friends forever, she really means forever

You see a lot of people, particularly on Film Twitter, complaining that movies have gotten too long and self-indulgent. It doesn’t seem possible that a film could be too short, and yet, mark it down, I’m saying it here: at a mere 75 minutes long, Homewrecker is too short. It purports to be a satire of the dark side of female friendships, but that aspect is largely gone after the first half hour, when it starts to veer wildly between horror and cringe humor. 

Linda reads as a bit off her rocker from the minute she appears on screen, so when it’s eventually revealed just how deeply unhinged she really is, much of the impact is lost. It illustrates some of the red flags that signify a toxic friendship — such as Linda asking polite yet vaguely intrusive questions about Michelle’s personal life then using that information to manipulate her later — but since their relationship is never given any time to authentically develop, it feels like an opportunity sacrificed in order to get from Point A to Point B in the plot.

It doesn’t seem possible that a film could be too short, and yet, mark it down, I’m saying it here: at a mere 75 minutes long, Homewrecker is too short.

There are a few interesting seeds planted in Homewrecker, such as Generation X’s obsession with their lost youth, and how Michelle’s refusal to be impolite to a veritable stranger leads to disastrous results. Unfortunately they’re negated by a silly (and deeply disappointing) third act twist revealing that Michelle meeting Linda didn’t entirely happen by chance. In fact, much of the last half hour is an incoherent mess, in which Linda regresses from pitiful to a bug-eyed cartoon villain. In the end it actually says nothing about the nature of female friendships, unless it’s common for women to chase each other around with a sledgehammer.

Essoe, who makes her mainstream horror debut in Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep later this year, is strong, as she goes through several stages of “what the fuck is happening here.” Chong is fine too, when she’s not doing a shrill take on Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. She seems game for just about anything the script throws at her, including singing Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” into a bejeweled vibrator, or cheating her way through a board game called “Party Hunks.” This is good, because Linda is written as a grotesque caricature of an aging woman, and, like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, can only be played in a big and broad manner.

As previously mentioned, Homewrecker starts on solid ground. There’s a lot to be explored, and a potentially great movie to be made, about how much women will go out of their way to not make other people angry, and how loneliness can drive you mad. It’s all potential, with almost no payoff.

“Homewrecker” Trailer:

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