Following a playground dispute between two 11 year old boys, their parents get together to discuss how best to handle the matter in a civilised way. However it’s not long before niceties turn into a verbal knife fight….
The genius of this film lies with its simplicity; barring the opening and closing sequence, the entire film takes place in a plush New York City apartment. Furthermore it involves only 4 main actors, each bringing their own flare to this explosive mix. In the one corner we have Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, her an uptight bleeding heart liberal with very touchy feely PC ideals on parenting, he a laid back regular working Joe, ever so slightly hen pecked by his wife. Opposite them we have Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz, Winslet a reserved investment broker and Waltz a pig ignorant savvy attorney. What begins as well meaning soon turns sour. Both couples begin with the best of intentions, to take a tricky situation and try and resolve it peacefully. Foster’s character sits astride her high horse, keen to assign the blame for her sons ‘disfigurement’ (he was struck by a stick by the other child and lost 2 teeth) on the parents. However it’s not long before Christophe Waltz begins to antagonize the situation, which rapidly spirals out of control, as alliances and opinions twist and turn for the best part of an hour. We get couple vs. Couple, men against women, the men spar off, then the women spar off.
The film starts with an air of wicked fun, all the forced pleasantries and politeness are laced with accusation and guilt. For all their want to be civilised bubbling beneath all this fakery is a volatile mix of anger, judgement and dislike. Christophe Waltz easily has the best part, deliciously delivering each line with a condescending tone that Foster bats right back at him. The fireworks really begin though when a nauseous Kate Winslet unexpectedly pukes all over the place (and I mean all over the place) suddenly everyone’s masks slip and true colours appear. The blame game gets truly underway, and not only are parenting skills dissected; each couples marriage comes under scrutiny as well. By the end it’s a free for all. Unfortunately though as threads come apart the whole thing gets a little dark and philosophical, it gets lost in the murky undertones of examining these wealthy New Yorkers middle class sensibilities rather than flaws in human nature. The point becomes side tracked and matters become a bit too self indulgent and melodramatic.
It’s clever, good fun to begin with, and when the veneers fade things do get feisty. Top notch acting carries the fighting along and cements Christophe Waltz as one of my favourite actors. However certain parts could do with trimming and the points being made a little more concise.