One can choose your friends, but not your family. In director Theresa Rebeck’s drama Trouble, the family is at each other’s throats from the beginning.
Interrupting her serene morning cup of coffee, Maggie (Anjelica Huston) runs further out to her property to discover brother Ben (Bill Pullman) in a backhoe digging up portions of the ground in order to build a house on land he argues is now his own.
What ensues is a dark comedy of inheritance rivalry that involves lots of cursing at each other, befuddled small town cops trying to make sense of the discord, and even gunshot wounds.
As fighting brother and sister, Huston and Pullman are the centers of attraction, using their lifelong experience to inhabit characters both quirky and knowing. They chew the scenery like the best of them. But along the way in their decades-long aggression towards each other, Trouble isolates even better relationships in the form of Ben’s son (Jim Parrack) and his girlfriend (a wonderfully comedic Julia Stiles), who helped acquire the land in nefarious ways. Also in the background is old family friend Gerry (David Morse), endlessly and patiently trying to help the family make amends.
It’s in these secondary characters that the film finds an amiable rhythm of small comedy and gentle affection. Stiles and Morse, in particular, embody their roles with the personality we’re used to seeing from them. Morse is sturdy and introspective and Stiles, while essentially playing a confused outsider suckered into something with more gravity than she ever imagined, enhances every scene she’s in with a pitch-perfect temperament.
Also in the mix are a small town full of bystanders given a first row seat to the comedic mayhem that erupts between brother and sister. As the town sheriff, Brian James d’Arcy is terrific through his aloof responses, while his assistant Alise (Annie Q.) is like something fresh from a 30s screwball comedy. They do what supporting characters are supposed to do and that’s add dimension and wry atmosphere to the whole thing.
As Trouble progresses and more and more layers about this family’s very public land battle ensues, the screenplay (also by Rebeck) maintains a mild, lightweight tone. We’ve seen some recent films, such as Jeff Nichols’ masterful debut Shotgun Stories (2007), take the family dispute angle to some apocalyptic violent measures. Trouble is not one of those. Its veteran cast carries the film from cranky sibling rivalry comedy to poignant drama with broadly gentle results. It’s certainly low-key, but every film need not be apocalyptic.
Trouble opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, November 2 at the AMC Stonebriar 24 in Frisco.