The Estate, Amazon Prime Video
The Estate is a madcap, borderline tasteless, and occasionally funny comedy of greed about a miserable bunch of vultures circling the not-quite-corpse of a wealthy maiden aunt. It’s a decent premise but, sadly, it amounts to less than the sum of its parts.
Macey (Toni Collette) is good-hearted and glum. Twice divorced, she is on the brink of losing her latest beau, a man given to uncontrollable bouts of weeping, to a job in Alaska. More pressing is that she is about to lose the shabby diner she runs with her sister Savanna (Anna Faris) to a mountain of debt. Their father started the place 50 years ago; soon it will be as dead as all the bodies buried in the cemetery across the road (location, location, location).
Anna Faris as Savanna and Toni Collette as Macey, the sisters at the heart of The Estate.Credit:Amazon Prime Video
The film, written and directed by Dean Craig and very much in keeping with the tone and style of his earlier screenplays for Death at a Funeral and the set-in-Australia A Few Best Men, wastes no time in setting up Macey as the low-wattage hero of the piece, which has the unfortunate effect of signalling from the outset where it will end. Savanna, though, is an ethical and behavioural mess. Just as well, too, as she is the story’s motor.
It is she who pounces on the news that their ageing aunt Hilda (Kathleen Turner) is dying, and suggests they ingratiate themselves with the childless old lady in order to edge into her will. Hilda’s huge house and its various chattels have to be worth $20 million, she reckons. That’ll fix up their crappy diner no end.
Of course, when they arrive they find Hilda is not alone at all. Their cousins Richard (David Duchovny) and Beatrice (Rosemarie DeWitt) are there already, with a sizeable headstart in the sucking-up stakes. Beatrice’s chef husband James (Ron Livingston) is cooking up a storm, too, hoping Hilda’s stomach is the fastest route to her frosty heart and heaving wallet.
David Duchovny as Richard “I prefer Dick” and Rosemarie DeWitt as Beatrice.Credit:Amazon Prime Video
There’s ample scope in the scheming, avarice and competition of the cousins, and the flinty imperviousness of Hilda to it all, for comedy broad, subtle and occasionally disgusting. But Craig rarely pushes it as far as it could go.
Beatrice’s selfishness sits lightly on her shoulders; she’s so comfortable with her greed she’s almost beatific. Likewise, Richard’s – “I prefer Dick” – sleaziness is blissfully untroubled. It is fun, though, to see Duchovny playing up to his personal and professional past with such self-awareness.
Turner feels under-used. I kept waiting for signs of Hilda’s cunning and perspicacity – traits the actress has so often brought to her roles – to shine through, to show that it is she who is playing the schemers, but there’s precious little of that.
And Collette, one of our finest screen actors, is burdened with the thankless task of having to play the patsy without the saving grace of abject humiliation; a scene with a colostomy bag, laden with gross-out potential, instead dribbles away to nothing.
Kathleen Turner as Hilda in The Estate.
For all that, The Estate does have some moments of laugh-out-loud wrongness. The best of these involve a Dungeons and Dragons-playing half-sister and a geriatric sex offender dredged up from Hilda’s past.
There, The Estate grasps the opportunity its superb cast and tight premise offers. Mostly, though, it squanders that rich inheritance on baubles.
Email the author at [email protected], or follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on Twitter @karlkwin.
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