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The Intervention review: frustratingly conventional

June 3, 2016

FestivalsFilm + EntertainmentReview | by Dominic Preston


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The Intervention screens as part of Sundance London 2016.

The Intervention, the writing and directorial debut of actor Clea DuVall, is about love and its struggle to survive within that dreaded encasement: the long-term relationship. It has a perfect structure, the compulsory twists and reverses, recurring imagery and lines that, by the end of the tale, have taken on irony or greater meaning. Yet somehow, there’s no spark.

Four couples come together for the weekend at sisters’ Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Jesse’s (Duvall) idyllic family home outside Savannah, Georgia. Jesse brings her girlfriend Sarah (Natasha Lyonne); Jack (Ben Schwartz) his, to the others at least, unsettlingly young girlfriend Lola (Alia Shawkat); and the semi-alcoholic Annie (Melanie Lynskey), brings her long-suffering fiancé Matt (Jason Ritter).

But there’s a bizarre purpose to this supposedly relaxed get-together: led by Annie, the group has decided to stage an intervention and tell the miserable, bickering Peter and Ruby to get a divorce.

The stage is set for everyone to become unsettled, whether it be the sexual challenge that free-love champion Lola presents to Jesse and her girlfriend, or the close to out-of-hand drinking of Annie, who seems awfully keen to split Peter and Ruby up. And up until the film’s central moment, it’s enjoyable if not earth shattering.

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Lynskey’s Annie is the strongest character, believably annoying and likeable at the same time. Meddling, kind and with all the best lines, she keeps the whole thing motoring. But once the humiliated Peter and Ruby find out the gang’s weird plan, the film starts to crumble around them.

I appreciate much of what DuVall has done here, but there’s a lack of clarity – storylines appear to fulfill criteria and end up not meaning much – and there isn’t one character through whose eyes we follow the story and thus care for. As a result the viewer ends up not minding whether Peter and Ruby stay together or if Annie has another drink (I kind of felt she should keep going).

Just as in love, where logic has very little to do with it, DuVall needs to let herself be guided by what she feels, not what she thinks she ought to write to satisfy the needs of form. Viewers may be more open to experiment than she imagines.

Words by AC Goodall