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'The Uninvited' Review: A Starry Soirée That Can Feel Too Exclusive

As its title suggests, there’s a limited guest list in “The Uninvited,” a keen critique of Hollywood that will play best to the insider set that Rose (Elizabeth Reaser) and Sammy Wright (Walton Goggins) welcome into their gated villa in the hills.

Writer-director Nadia Conners clearly knows of what she speaks when throwing a party meant to impress. It isn’t hard to imagine that the real-life wife of Goggins, whose career has only thrived more as he’s gotten older, has heard something similar to the voicemail left for Rose in the early moments of Conners’ directorial debut. The message informs the actress that she’s now too old to play the mother of a 6-year-old when she’s barely into her 40s. (Never mind that her own son Wilder is around that age.) Yet unlike Conners, no one has probably told Rose that she might make a good director after begrudgingly accepting the role of homemaker, frantically doting over every detail in staging a party for her manager husband’s star client, Gerald (Rufus Sewell), putting out any potential fire before it happens.

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The small soirée ostensibly serves to welcome Gerald back from a film he directed abroad, but there’s a lot more on the line. Sammy is planning to break away from his current agency and start his own firm and beyond the hope that Gerald sticks with him, he’s interested in seducing the Italian ingenue Delia (Eva De Dominici) his client recently worked with. He also can’t be too angry that his wife’s ex Lucien (Pablo Pascal) will be making his way over, since the guy became a big movie star since their breakup and his commission could be huge.

What Sammy couldn’t possibly have counted on is the arrival of Helen (Lois Smith), a nonagenarian who claims the Wrights’ house was once hers. She’s clearly lost, mistaking Sammy for her late husband at first. While Rose thinks nothing of letting Helen in to use the restroom, Sammy wants no part of it, the first of many doors that Conners envisions as closed to women of a certain age.

Originally developed as a play, “The Uninvited” doesn’t feel like one visually, since DP Robert Leitzell elegantly uses a wide frame to suggest a sense of confinement with color rather than space. The deep blacks that make the clean off-white interiors of the Spanish-style house and the icicle lights outside at night pop can also appear at times as if the characters are surrounded by the abyss. Still, there are long, intense monologues and overdetermined dialogue that can be an unfortunate tip-off to its origins, particularly when Helen sits in the living room as the party goes on, largely as an audience for Rose and Sammy to vent after taking turns as hosts.

Although Conners isn’t shy about tucking exposition into conversations no matter how awkward the fit — and leavened somewhat by the fine ensemble on hand, the film’s grand design is more subtle. Antiquated attitudes toward age and gender have clearly hurt Rose, but they are a symptom of a system that Sammy is a slave to as well. As the two go through the motions of a party neither wants to be at, there’s as much to be gained from having to ask themselves why they put themselves through it as much who they are really doing it for.

That question still nags, however, when considering “The Uninvited” for a broader audience than just those who work in the film and TV business. Wasteful extravagances such as a party photographer hired to take pictures of people’s auras and $200 shots of whiskey could amuse people outside of Los Angeles, but the film’s cultural hyper-specificity can feel insular. Still, when there may be no better industry to consider issues around ageism, surely others will see themselves when Rose dares to look upon her personal life as a consolation prize for her stymied professional ambitions. As a filmmaker of confidence, one can be glad that’s a choice Conners now doesn’t have to make for herself.

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