Some of the best comedies are the ones that feature genuinely horrible people. Think how It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia centers on a cast of characters that create chaos and absurdity through their own despicable nature. While certainly less committed and creative by comparison, the surprisingly solid comedy The Estate operates in a similar vein in telling a story of various members of a family willing to do anything to secure the inheritance of a terminally ill aunt. Even as it is often overstretched and carries on for too long, it still provides more than enough laughs in a cinema landscape that has been missing out on mid-budget comedies.


Written and directed by Dean Craig, most known for his Death at a Funeral films, it begins with an animated introduction to the members of the family we’ll come to know. The two at the center, Toni Collette‘s Macey and Anna Faris‘ Savanna, have fallen on hard times that now threaten the family café they run. When Savanna proposes that they try to win over their ailing Aunt Hilda (Kathleen Turner) so they can get her money when she passes, Macey is initially opposed as she doesn’t want to get involved with such a sordid scheme. However, after discovering that her construction-working boyfriend Geoff (Gichi Gamba) is being reassigned to Alaska and needs to go for the money, Macey reluctantly agrees to go along with the plot. Upon arriving, they discover that they aren’t alone. There is Rosemarie DeWitt’s selfish Beatrice who has dragged along her sad sap husband James (Ron Livingston) who she is using for his cooking that she is passing off as her own to woo her aunt. Then there is David Duchovny in rare form as the buffoonish Richard, a man with absolutely no boundaries or sense of decency. All want the money for different reasons though, as we come to realize, are united by a shared willingness to be complete and total assholes. That is, save for Macey who is the only one even remotely clinging to her humanity while taking part in the hustle.

The movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel and there are more than a few moments where it even gets quite a bit caught up spinning through scenarios that have already exhausted their comedic potential. With that being said, it wastes no time in setting everything up and getting the ball rolling down the increasingly rocky hill. From the moment Macey and Savanna arrive at Hilda’s home, the film tips us headfirst into the dysfunction as all soon bring out the worst in each other. Backhanded insults get snuck in like knives as they each jostle for superiority over the other even as they are all there to debase themselves for exactly the same thing. They will occasionally play nice on the surface, though the facade quickly fades as they go at each other’s throats in a desperate attempt to lock down the money as theirs before she expires.

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As they bicker with each other, there is one extended moment of silence where Duchovny so convincingly portrays how the wind is taken out of his sails that shows what the film can be at its best. Even as the experience is unabashedly mean-spirited, what proves to be some of the most fun is that Turner will get in some jabs as Hilda who has clearly alienated many members of her family as she accumulated her wealth. That she is now wasting away in her home with people that are only there for her money swarming around her is a fitting and funny scenario to play around in. When she is taken on a misguided drive to reconnect with another family member, the meeting humorously descends into shouting and violence immediately.

Even as this teeters on the edge of becoming a bit repetitive over the course of a full feature, there are still more than enough comedic escalations to keep us on our toes. This reaches a peak when Hilda reminisces about how she had a crush on a boy from high school and her desire to get laid one final time. It sets off a snowballing scheme by Macey and Savanna to track down the guy to see if he will come to meet her as they think this is the most surefire way to get the money from her. While it does require a bit of legwork to get things in motion, the cascading comedic calamity it creates becomes unexpected in how it all unfolds. Though one could hardly call the jokes clever in how vulgar they are, there is something to be said about how it manages to pull off a ridiculous series of events that test the limits of taste.

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Though all the cast is rather good, the central duo of Collette and Faris proves to be the high point. Without them to carry the film through some weaker bits, including a recurring Dungeons and Dragons reference that feels tacked on, the film would have a much harder time holding together. To see Faris in a starring comedy role that gives her plenty of room to let loose is a treat, and she fully commits even when the story does not. Similarly underrated in her comedic performances, Collette channels part of her similar character from Knives Out though with slightly more heart to it. The two feed off each other perfectly and are the only ones you even remotely “root” for initially before they quickly start to take things too far.

Of course, there comes a point where you completely and utterly lose any sense of sympathy for these people with what they are trying to do. This is by design as you are meant to be repulsed by just how awful and manipulating they each are. Whatever small kernel of humanity they have gets thoroughly ground up and spit out in our faces. There are moments where the film seems to lose its nerve and gives Collette a couple of monologues to take them all to task. While her self-awareness is perpetually undercut by some great jokes that show none of these people are ever going to change for the better, one almost wishes that it had taken everything a little bit further before pulling back. Perhaps this is just a desire to see a feature-length version of what would be even more of an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode than this already is. Obviously, nothing can be that bonkers show though one only wishes it could have come close. In particular, there is a specific moment where the film drags on beyond what would have been a perfect ending joke where I could practically see it cutting to black and then hear that distinctively cheery theme playing over the credits. Though it doesn’t have the audacity to close when it should with its characters at their very lowest, The Estate is still proper fun in seeing a deeply improper family tear each other apart.

Rating: B-

The Estate is in theaters now.

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