Miserable White Folks, Done Right, in Helena From the Wedding


Alex and Alice (Melanie Lynskey and Lee Tergesen), newlywed but together long enough to familiarly co-habit a bathroom, arrive to host a New Year’s party at their snowbound cabin somewhere upstate. What follows is a miserable-white-folks ensemble piece, as guests show up and—as people are wont to do even when it’s not a holiday that encourages self-criticism—start measuring their own dissatisfaction relative to everyone else’s. The group is frequently drunk, but writer-director Joseph Infantolino’s handling is lucid, a necessity to keep up the sense of vague dread and walking-on-eggshell egos. Save Gillian Jacobs as the title’s Helena, a wild-card single girl, everyone is nearer 40 than 30, and regarding with alarm their visibly dwindling stock of “good years,” their romantic decisions, their prospects, and their reflections in the mirror. It’s fantastic to see Lynskey (best remembered as a Kiwi teenager in Heavenly Creatures) in a part that puts her to use, and Paul Fitzgerald, as the group’s lone divorcé, gets across a quality of amiable surrender, but it’s Tergesen who is the film’s lynchpin. As dissembling flop playwright Alex, he brings Jack Lemmon to mind, his standby expression a thin half-grin and bright eyes that suggest he’s holding back a scream.