Segue-ing nicely off the back of James’s Big Night (1996) review – a film that’s been on my to-watch list since he first told me about it – I bring you another piece that plays on the almost timeless premise that everyone at the dinner table is not all they are cracked up to be, necessarily. While not strictly about food per se, The Perfect Host is largely set at a middle-class dinner and drinks party and, while not exactly Murder in Three Acts, relies heavily on the impeccable manners of some, and the hidden secrets of others. The review copy of this film came to my postbox directly from our good friends at Paradiso Belgium, without whom I would merely sit twiddling my thumbs some evenings.
The premise is simple. Following a daylight bank job, small-time crook turned armed robber John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) has ditched the weapon, dumped the getaway vehicle and is already being chased by the cops. He needs somewhere to hole up until the heat dies down and to attend to his badly-lacerated foot. He tries several houses, his smooth charm failing at all but the last one, where he worms his way in by pretending to be a friend of the owner’s friend Julia – information gleaned from a postcard he stole from the mailbox outside the house. The owner, Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce) is reluctant at first, but has a change of heart and makes John comfortable with a glass of wine while he attends to the last-minute preparations for his dinner party. The places are set, the wine uncorked and the duck is in the oven. What could possibly go wrong?
I have to make mention of the fact that this cost nothing to make, comparatively, and made a very poor showing at the box office – probably due to limited release policies, making way for such gems from the same year as The Last Airbender and Sex and the City 2. Don’t even get me started. Clayne Crawford has done a lot of television work but never seems to get big parts in movies as yet. I am hoping that this is a springboard for him, as he handles the script and situations very well indeed – and provides some bad-boy eye candy for the ladies. Not quite a man of steel, but a man who steals the show is David Hyde Pierce. The sappy fop Niles Crane from the sitcom Frasier has certainly ramped up the weird for this one. It’s almost certainly no spoiler to let you in on the fact that although John Taylor isn’t really a friend of anyone Warwick knows, Warwick isn’t quite the affable, slightly naïf middle-class milksop he gives the impression of being. The performance Hyde Pierce puts in allows you to immediately forget Niles Crane – something I genuinely thought would bother me at first. In fact, as it’s one of the things that drew me to The Perfect Host in the first place, it was a very pleasant surprise. In short, this film deserves to be seen by more people and it’s a shame the distribution couldn’t be arranged better.
That the film was a low-budget affair was evident by the lighting, the limited location/second unit work and some of the camera shots. That said, it’s well scripted, performed with heart and feeling and is eminently watchable. The story is well formed (mostly; read on) and there are just the right amount of laughs to offset the less pleasant moments. Any self-respecting film-goer will know that this is a balance that is very difficult to pull off and credit should go to Nick Tomnay (writing, direction) and Krishna Jones (writing). Both relative newcomers to the world of film, it’s a cracking start for them both. Now, you may be of the opinion that there was something slightly amiss in my enjoyment of the ensemble. You’d be right but I’d have to point out a couple of things: 1. I can let gaps in the script or minor plot holes go; and 2. People who spend all day in their parents’ basement or spare room pointing out minor inaccuracies should get out and take the air more often.
So what’s the beef, Colin? Coincidences. Massive, massive coincidences. I can get over certain things but there are a few one-in-ten-million coincidences that make winning the Lotto seem like a walk in the park. I’m an easy-going guy – ask almost anyone – but I had a few genuine ‘huh?’ moments when my slovenly brain had processed the linear information being fed to it. ‘How can he have…’, ‘Why was he saying…when…’, and ‘How the hell can that be…’ were some of the thoughts I had. I would be happy to see a remake of this with the story tidied up a bit so that even a dullard such as I could enjoy it without having a WTF moment. It’s not that there’s anything really missing from the plot, and there are twists and turns a-plenty – particularly in the final act, it’s just that the coincidences made me wince a little.
I would definitely recommend you see this – and hopefully my heads-up about the unlikely odds will have prepared you so you may go into it knowing that you may go ‘pfff’ at some point. Not for the troglodyte nit-picking types, although the rest of the human race will have a blast with this one.