Newport Beach Film Festival Review: ‘The Estate’

Greetings again from the darkness. I’ll admit that during the pandemic, I haven’t been as selective on the movies I choose to watch as during “normal” times. Heck, I have more available time and I enjoy watching movies, so why not relax the standards a bit? This approach has worked out just fine. Until now. This is the first one to bite me and have me questioning why I agreed to watch and review it.

For most of those involved, it’s their first foray into a feature film, or at least their first in a primary role. Director James Kapner’s resume is filled with music video shorts, and writer Chris Baker has previously only written for his own video shorts. This is also Mr. Baker’s first starring role in a feature film. He plays George, a spoiled, young gay man willing to go to any lengths to ensure his life of luxury. Eliza Coupe (“Happy Endings”) co-stars as Lux, George’s stepmother, who is equally spoiled and also willing go to any lengths to ensure her own life of luxury.

The film begins with a title card stating, “This is a true fable”. It might best be described as a parody of the elite rich and their self-centeredness. George’s father and Lux’s husband is the target of their animosity. Played by Eric Roberts, Marcello has little energy for either son or wife, though he allows them to live in one of his many mansions. As a movie lover of many years, I have my own ‘Eric Roberts Rule’. It states that there is a 98% chance that any movie featuring Mr. Roberts will be overboard cheesy, and likely to generate multiple eye-rolls. Eric Roberts is the best thing about this movie. You should know that the Eric Roberts rule only kicked in about 30 years ago (prior to that he was legit), and he currently has more than 60 new projects in various stages of production. The man is nothing, if not prolific.

Things get twisted pretty quickly as Joe (Greg Finley) teams up with Lux and George in a plot to kill Marcello, and reap the rewards of his estate. There are also a couple of quick scenes featuring the always quirky Heather Matarazzo as Mary, the office clerk at Marcello’s Attorney’s office. More of Ms. Matarazzo would certainly have helped. Instead, Joe and George dominate the screen, as Lux is pushed from center stage. A TV interview with George is used as a framing device, which is unfortunate, as it destroys any hope of mystery throughout.

As a parody of rich, white privilege, it’s somehow lacking in outlandish moments – which seems incredulous to even write, given the premise. The humor is sparse, but a couple of lines really connect. As Joe is discussing his background, he states “Assassin is too political. I’m a hitman.” Lux, with all sincerity states, “We are white and rich. We can kill one guy.” It’s this type of commentary and dark humor that the film needed more of. Still, we can’t miss the obvious … families can go sideways and life goals can go wrong. But if we are going to enjoy watching, it requires more than the Eric Roberts Rule.

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