wed 22/05/2024

The Trouble with Jessica review - the London housing market wreaks havoc on a group of friends | reviews, news & interviews

The Trouble with Jessica review - the London housing market wreaks havoc on a group of friends

The Trouble with Jessica review - the London housing market wreaks havoc on a group of friends

Matt Winn directs a glossy cast in a black comedy that verges on farce

Kitchen confidential: Shirley Henderson as SarahParkland Pictures

Before moving house, Sarah (Shirley Henderson) and Tom (Alan Tudyk) are throwing a final dinner for their best and oldest friends. Sarah wants it to be special. It turns out to be very special. Disastrous, in fact.

Director Matt Winn’s black comedy of middle class manners, set in a north London house (looks like Muswell Hill, and there are shots of Alexandra Park at night) ticks lots of property porn boxes and features fine, sparky performances from its glossy cast, but it’s more like a silly, mildly amusing West End farce than anything else. Lots of bandying around of the F word, but the dialogue is not particularly sharp.

It’s obviously a terrible wrench for Tom and Sarah to give up this immaculately done-up piece of real estate with its Farrow & Ball colours, its perfectly appointed kitchen, its Guston-esque art pieces and its black and white tiles. This is where their kids grew up, after all – one of them, we’re told, is a born-again Christian, needing faith in his life. His parents, it's implied, haven't provided moral certainties. Tom, an architect, has made a financial mistake, a very bad one that Sarah discovered because she does the accounts, and the bailiffs are at the door. Luckily, they’ve sold the house, almost. A few papers need signing, that’s all.

jessicaBut when Richard and Beth (Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams), the best friends, arrive, they bring along Jessica (Indira Varma; pictured above) who is clearly a free spirit, aka narcissistic flirt. Sarah, swigging wine from an enormous glass, is furious – Jessica is such a liability, she’s bound to ruin the evening. They’ve all known each other since university days. And they’ve all grown up – got married, had kids, established high-flying careers – except Jessica. Though Richard is a lawyer who specialises in defending rapists. Nice. And Jessica has just written a tell-all memoir – but who, precisely, is the Mr X she writes about so fervently? “A life of zero responsibility and you get a best-seller out of it,” snarls Sarah. Maybe success will make her life less chaotic.

That’s soon proved not to be the case after she gets up from the table before pudding (clafoutis, Tom’s speciality) and hangs herself in the garden. Now her chaos spills out on to her friends. Though they don't seem quite traumatised enough, considering the horror of the act. “Why didn’t she hang herself in her own garden?” demands Sarah. “She didn’t have a garden,” says Richard. Turns out he knows her warehouse-style Camden flat – also very well appointed, with its steel beams – rather well.

jessicaWhen Tom (Alan Tudyk, pictured above right, with Rufus Sewell as Richard) tries to call the police, Sarah stops him. It might jeopardise the sale, she says, if the buyer finds out. No, they’ll have to move the body to Jessica’s flat and make it look like she did it there. Everyone erupts in disbelief at this deranged notion. The rest of the film is spent wrangling with the body and with each other.

Their antics are interrupted by two weirdly avuncular policemen, who turn up to check if everything’s OK because someone tried to call them, as well as the neighbour, played by the wonderful Anne Reid, who wants Jessica to sign a copy of her book and won’t take no for an answer, and the buyers, Klaus (a splendidly clipped Sylvester Groth) and his wife Ellen (Amber Rose Revah).

The vastly rich Klaus hasn’t seen the house before and Ellen needs his approval before he jets off. He works as a consultant for evil gas and oil companies, which prompts Beth to insult him, but he’s impervious, walking through the house saying nothing but an expressionless "OK" in each room. He wants to look inside the downstairs loo, which poses a problem, as the dead Jessica is slumped in there.

In the end, no one – apart from Jessica, presumably – suffers very much, and the clafoutis is a constant source of amusement, with the jolly policemen tucking in enthusiastically. Life-styles and marriages remain intact. Even Klaus turns out to be nicer than he seems. “Jessica was right, we are lucky,” says a tear-stained Sarah to Tom, ending on an underwhelming note.

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