The Summer House

Not even the legendary Jeanne Moreau can spice up this mild, familiar, domestic comedy-drama about the attempt by a 1950s English girl to escape imminent marriage to a caddish momma's boy.

Margaret (Lena Headey), alternately dreaming of her past romance with an exotic Egyptian and desiring to become a nun, doesn't reply to a marriage proposal from Syl (David Threlfall). He's a self-infatuated older man who lives next door with his inflated mum (Joan Plowright) and is the type to whistle when driving. Syl takes her silence as a yes and pooh-poohs her when she says she doesn't love him. Margaret's mother, Monica (Julie Walters), does too. She thinks Syl is quite a good catch.

Enter Monica's old school chum, the flamboyant-because-she's-half-Egyptian Lili (Moreau). Sporting wild red hair, colorful scarves, a cigarette holder and an artiste husband, Lili offers cliched aphorisms that are supposed to make her look like a savior -- "all living beings have something to cry about," she announces. So of course she sizes things up. What happens won't surprise you.

Though there are occasional funny lines ("I am marrying a man nobody likes," Margaret says, "I thought it was just me"), there aren't enough of them to make The Summer House much more than a tame comedy of suburban manners. This is surprising, since it was written by Martin Sherman, playwright of the provocative Bent.

Perhaps the only reason to see this diversion is for the performers. With one exception, all are good -- particularly Plowright (seen most recently in Enchanted April), with the stately puffiness of a matron fond of widowhood, and Walters, whose benign frump is worlds away from her attractive tart from Educating Rita. The unexpected exception here is Moreau. Droning and haggard, the one-time diva of Truffaut's Jules et Jim, Antonioni's La Notte and Bunuel's Diary of a Chambermaid exhibits little of the mystique or spirit the role calls for.

-- Peter Szatmary

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