Kitchen Privileges (Housebound)
Sometimes it is difficult to classify a flick. Even though very few movies can be considered in a single pure genre there is usually one that tends to dominate the story. With the film ‘Kitchen Privilege’ by film maker Mari Kornhauser there is a little ambiguity in just what kind of movie it is. This one starts off as a strong thriller in the first act moves into a romantic second act and then pops back to a thriller at the conclusion. This use of genre transition is not unusual but the pairing of a romance within a thriller is a bit odd. As such it might be best to think of this in terms of an experimental movie. Such a consideration does give some leeway in the critique and finally analysis of the film. It has taken over eight years for this movie to make its way to a release here in the States. Sometimes this does happen with an American made film that it has to make the global rounds before a release at home. It opened in 2000 in a Canadian film festival and then on to Brazil cable television and a video release in Finland. Now it has found an American DVD distributor with Lion’s Gate and Xenon Pictures. The film is not all that bad but it does have more than its share of missteps that prevent it from fulfilling its potential.
As a writer Mari Kornhauser has a couple of other screenplays to her name. One was a romantic drama while the other was a dramatic thriller. This does give her some experience in the blending of the genres she utilizes in this story. She employs a very strong and time honored plot device to set up her story, agoraphobia. Being afraid to venture out of the safety of your own home sets the stage for inner turmoil and just enough emotional issues to set up vulnerable protagonist. Of course this malady is a lot easier to cope with now since you can get just about anything you want from the internet or local delivery. Even with this greater availability of goods and services this disorder strikes a chord with many in the audience. While most do not act on it the feelings or have an overwhelming compulsion to stay home we have all had times when we have to fight just to get out of bed and go to work. This makes the lead character here, Marie, nicely played by Katharina Wressnig, one we can identify with. Kornhauser also provides a etiology for the condition. Marie was the victim of a brutal rape in an elevator and ever since has been unable to leave her place. Kornhauser then introduces the foil for the tale. Tom (Peter Sarsgaard) is a chef who answers an ad to be Marie’s roommate. He is charming, intelligent and sensitive; a perfect tenant. Of course in any thriller or horror flick such a man surely has something to hide. They become friends and start to confide in each other more and more. He cooks fantastic meals for her and they talk incessantly. He even wants to help her over come her phobia of the outside world. This is much more than Marie’s friends and boyfriends seem willing to do. The only thing that hints of something off kilter are the large, mysterious bags he brings home with him. Modern sensibilities make this story line possible. Now it with the cost of rent so high in any major city it is almost impossible for a single young woman to make due on her own. It is also no longer unusual for co-ed roommates.
While she had some experience as a script writer this is Kornhauser’s freshman opus as a director. Much of the film is staged like a little off Broadway one set play. There is a dynamic between Marie and Tom that is capable of holding the attention of the audience. Kornhauser knows how to work in such a tight setting and uses the limitation of the in house set to her best advantage. As their relationship grows there is a budding romance brewing. This is highlighted in the second act as previously noted. In between the usual ‘getting to know you’ moments is a nicely played cat and mouse game that seems more obvious to the audience than the characters. Kornhauser does demonstrate that she is still on the learning curve as a director. The pacing is awkward going too fast at points and then dragging through other sections of the film. She also tries to be a bit too stylistic with fancy credits, transitions and ways to suggest the passage of time using various international holidays. The boundaries between thriller to romance and back to thriller are clumsy and too clearly demarcated. It breaks up the flow of the piece too much. To her credit Kornhauser does try to keep the audience guessing what the final reveal will be setting clues that tie together at the end.
The film opens on a dark suburban street. A car pulls up and a man gets out and removes a large garbage bag from it. He proceeds to carry it towards the sidewalk. The camera then passes over an unkempt lawn with a half concealed sign ‘room for rent with kitchen privileges’. Jarrid (Geoffrey Lower) was with his girlfriend Marie at her house. She was having another nightmare of being raped and he decides it would be best for him to leave. The attack has left their relationship strained. As he prepares to leave she reaches for her medication. He is afraid that she is abusing it and an argument begins between the two. He manages to talk her down from being upset; it looks as if he is well practiced in this. Marie starts to work when her new age sister, Mignon (Angeline Ball) comes over to check up on her and bring her a few items. Sis is a aspiring novelist who tries to get some the court transcripts Marie is working on as fodder for her work. This paints a picture of an emotionally fragile Marie who is trying the best se can to cope with her situation without actually trying to do anything to resolve it. When Tom shows up to rent the room the story is primed for the subsequent events. On the surface it looks like a drama about two dysfunctional people trying to help each other but then things begin to take a dark turn.
The film does have its moments but they are a bit too few and far between for ultimate success. It is a noble first work for a new director and a lot better than all the slash and dash horror flicks that appear to be the default genre for new writer/directors of late. At least Kornhausermade a solid effort to go off in a different direction and that holds a lot of promise for subsequent films.