Monday, February 14, 2022

A Banquet

When money gets tight for a widow, she should be happy to have one less mouth to feed, especially since her daughter Betsey isn’t losing any weight. Of course, moms just worry. Betsey’s creepy apocalyptic talk certainly does not help. She seems to think her total lack of appetite is connected to some sort of spiritual end times in Ruth Paxton’s A Banquet, which opens Friday in New York.

After her husband’s long illness and tragic suicide, Holly is now a widow, who solely concentrates on her two daughters. They live in a striking modernist home, but Holly’s finances are rather precarious. Presumably, her eldest Betsey, has contracted some sort of virus at an inopportune time, but it is unclear what sort of specialist she needs.

The teenager cannot bear to ingest a morsel of food. Yet, she precisely maintains her weight day after day. Her weird talk about a spiritual awakening suggests a need for psychological treatment, but her tough-love grandmother June initially assumes she just needs a kick in the butt. However, the persistence of her condition and her distant manner unnerves her entire family.

Essentially, Paxton and screenwriter Justin Bull combine elements of body horror with a dark vision of some undefined manifestation of spirituality. In some ways,
A Banquet shares a kinship with Bruno Dumont’s Hadewijch, in which a young woman’s earnest blind faith causes dire consequences for her and those around her. Except, A Banquet keeps its options open with respects to the validity of Betsey’s visions. Weirdly, that makes it a hard film to embrace, from any perspective.

Despite its cold, off-putting vibe, Lindsay Duncan largely carries and nearly redeems the entire film as Grandma June. Her penetrating intelligence grabs the viewer’s attention and the way she tells a supernatural folk tale can raise goosebumps on the back of your neck. Frankly, she really should have been the film’s primary POV.

Admittedly, Sienna Guillory is also quite compelling as the increasingly desperate Holly. However, everyone is guaranteed to lose patience with her charmless, self-destructive daughters. In real life, anyone acting like Betsey would most likely find themselves hooked up to a nutrient drip IV, regardless of her weight or physical condition.

A Banquet
is probably a good weight-loss movie, because Paxton’s extreme close-ups of food are deliberately unappetizing. It is stylish, but it is undone by its post-horror-ish ambiguities. If you want to watch a film like Thinner than re-watch Thinner rather then this film. Not recommended (despite Duncan’s greatness) A Banquet opens this Friday (2/18) in New York, at the IFC Center.