Hildy Good thinks alcohol runs in her veins. “I was born three drinks short of comfortable,” she confides in the feature The Good House, now in theaters.
Of course, Hildy never stops at three drinks, which makes her dangerous. Yet she’s full of such authority and acerbic wit, both in Ann Leary’s novel and in the form of “titan of cinema” Sigourney Weaver, that audiences at first have a tough time believing she’s in trouble, said Maya Forbes, who directed the film with her husband, Wallace Wolodarsky.
The creative couple, who previously teamed up on 2017’s Netflix comedy-drama The Poker King, also wrote the script with Thomas Bezucha (Let Him Go).
“We liked the book because we generally respond to character and voice, and the central character of Hildy was such a strong voice,” Forbes said. “And we were drawn to all of those sorts of questions it asked in terms of, 'Does a person have a problem? Who are we to say someone has a problem?'... You know, that sort of thing that happens in your mind where you’re saying, ‘My friend is really happy when they’re drinking. I can’t tell if it’s a problem. I want them to be happy.’ Just all of that.”
On the page, Hildy is a likable yet unreliable first-person narrator. For the screen, the filmmakers opted to have Hildy break the fourth wall, a creative choice that Wolodarsky remembered from comedian Jack Benny’s performances and Forbes liked in the TV series Fleabag.
“We wanted to get that feeling of sitting at the bar with your friend, and they’re telling you their side of the story. You don’t know any better than what they’re telling you,” Forbes said. “See, Hildy is so much trying to tell that story to herself.”
Whether other writers or an audience prefer voiceover or fourth wall breaks depends on the execution, they added. “I like voiceover, too, but that can work really well, or that can also feel overused, like you’re being dragged through something by someone’s voiceover,” Forbes said.
Weaver was already attached to The Good House when the couple came aboard, which also inspired them to have her relate to viewers in a different way.
“What excited us about it was that we know her—I mean, everyone knows her,” Forbes said. From the Ghostbusters and Alien franchises alone, “they’ve been watching her for years, and so she’s a familiar person trying to weasel her way into your heart and convince you that she does not have a problem. And it was a fun thing for her to play. We just felt it was a more dynamic way of just getting at the denial of it all.”
Although the trailers focus on the renewed romance between Hildy and Frank Getchell, her boyfriend from high school (Kevin Kline), The Good House is more of a character study. It shows a woman in her sixties juggling her own real estate business, adult daughters who still need financial help, a gay ex-husband receiving alimony—and coping mechanisms that don’t work for her anymore.
“What we wanted to do was a woman’s total life,” Forbes said. “We definitely didn’t want to tell the story of, ‘She found love finally, and that solved all the problems.’ … The romance was definitely important, that she gets to a place where she can be open to that. But it wasn’t the whole thing. It was more of a holistic picture of a person.”
The script has its share of New England humor, such as Hildy noting she needs a drink before her family’s intervention, along with moments that the filmmakers and the crew found relatable, such as a Thanksgiving dinner where Hildy sneaks booze into a Bloody Mary while checking on pies in the oven.
“She’s hiding that she’s drinking,” Wolodarsky said, “but she is charming and fun, and everybody notices.”
“And everyone likes her. Likes her better,” Forbes said.
“The darkness is, of course, is then she gets into her car. She’s drunk, and it’s really frightening [to] think of that person out on the road,” he said.
“There’s also the thing of, like, everyone else is also drinking. But you’re the person who has been deemed to have the drinking problem,” she said.
Weaver and Kline brought their own ideas and instincts to the project, along with a playfulness that dates back to their Yale School of Drama/Juilliard School rivalry. “It really infused the way they would play the characters because they did have a kind of teasing relationship with each other. It was fun to kind of build on their real relationship,” Wolodarsky said.
Kline, who won an Oscar for 1989’s A Fish Called Wanda, often plays characters “that are a little more theatrical,” Forbes said. But he has a lived-in warmth as Frank, a salt-of-the-earth guy who knows Hildy well enough to be painfully honest—and get her to laugh at herself.
Weaver kept the camaraderie going off camera, gamely indulging the crew’s sci-fi curiosity. “I spent so much time in between takes, on the weekends, in pre-production, in post-production, like, ‘You know that scene in Aliens when …?” Wolodarsky said as Forbes laughed. “It was like the ultimate DVD commentary. … I’m a great Avatar lover too. I tried to get her to tell me something about the new one, but she just completely shut me down.”
Weaver also leaned into her independent streak to hide Hildy’s vulnerability, which Forbes found worked well for the character.
“She’s this commanding, tall woman, and I kind of feel like she needs to be taken care of too, you know? When you’re sort of almost an Amazon, you don’t always feel like you’re going to get taken care of, and that’s something that I feel deeply with Hildy, that she needs love but it’s hard for her to ask for it.”
The Good House is now available in Theaters.