Parker Posey is one of my favorite actresses working in film today. Her performances in even the most mundane and mediocre films are layered with character and in many cases are often quite edgy. Recently I have been seeking out films featuring Parker Posey from that era of the mid-1990s when the independent film, or so it is called, reached its climax in both quality and popularity. Naturally, The House Of Yes is an obvious candidate for my informal retrospective.
The House Of Yes, based upon the off-Broadway play of the same name written by Wendy MacLeod, was released in 1997; directed and adapted by Mark Waters. The film takes place on Thanksgiving, and follows the effects of Marty’s (Josh Hamilton) return home with his fiancé Leslie (Tori Spelling) on his clinically insane twin sister Jackie-O (Parker Posey). As the film progresses, several truths about the siblings are uncovered by Leslie and Marty’s brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr); Jackie and Marty are incestuous lovers, and that Jackie shot Marty in an attempt to prevent him from going to college. The uncovering of this information has a few unwelcomed ramifications for Leslie.
Leslie herself does not suspect Marty of incest until Anthony tells her in an attempt to seduce her. Leslie rejects this, deciding to see for herself. What she finds is Marty and Jackie re-enacting the assassination of JFK, the climax of which is intercourse. Leslie’s reaction is to re-claim Marty for herself via Anthony, finally seducing, then rejecting him.
This brings us to the films over arching theme, an analysis of sexual motivations. Jackie uses sex as leverage to keep her twin brother close to her. She is always maintaining, as does Anthony, that without Marty she cannot live. The dire circumstances of such a belief excuse, in Jackie’s mind, the taboo-shattering act of incest. However, Marty is equally as important to Leslie. Leslie uses sex in the film as both a means for revenge and to fulfill her possessive tendencies. Even more so, Leslie uses sex as a form of denial, with Anthony standing in for Marty. This makes it impossible, from Leslie’s perspective, for Marty to be having sex with her while at the same time having sex with Jackie.
The sexualization of assassination in the film also speaks to the need for control the characters posses. The act of ending a life is the ultimate excersise of control over another human being after all. So it becomes doubley disturbing that Marty is so willing to role-play as JFK. Marty sits on a sofa, waving as if from a motorcade while Jackie holds a gun on him. She fires the blanks, Marty plays dead, and then Jackie leaps on top off him as Jackie Kennedy had, trying to pull her husband back into the “car”. It is from the pulling into the “car” that the role-playing digresses into carnal consummation.
The obsessive behavior toward the JFK assassination displayed by Jackie runs throughout the film (she is always dressed as her namesake Jackie O.). The film opens with a montage cutting back and forth between news reel footage of Jackie Kennedy circa 1962 giving a tour of her house and home video footage shot by Marty of Jackie re-enacting the newsreel as a teenage girl. This motif resurfaces again with the incest scene, but also in Jackie’s account of her father walking out on her mother. According to her, this event took place on the same day as Kennedy’s assassination. However, Jackie implants moments from the assassination into her parents fighting, creating one single traumatic event. One must assume that her obsessive behavior concerning the Kennedys derives from this moment of her childhood.
The concerns and concepts behind The House Of Yes speak to the exploitive use of sexuality in our society as well as to the morbid fascination with martyred celebrities. In the whirlwind of this film’s fast paced narrative, some of the humor may be lost (this film is billed as a comedy). But what is important is not the sheer entertainment value alone, but how the film forces its audience to reassess these concepts.