Clea Duvall’s first feature film, The Intervention, is the epitome of good intentions gone horribly awry. Six friends (or three couples), each with baggage of their own, spend a weekend at a beautiful Southern estate in an attempt to convince two additional friends (a fourth couple) that they should get a divorce. It’s a plan destined for disaster, but there is beauty in the fallout that makes for quality entertainment.
Movie fans who spent the late 90s and early 2000s watching movies about high school and college life have since matured into adults with a slew of responsibilities those films never warned them about. The days of carefree road trips and all night parties have been replaced with brunch dates and occasional weekend getaways, which is the place where the 30-somethings in The Intervention find themselves when the story begins. Whether they know it or not, each character embarks on the trip with baggage of their own: Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter’s (Vincent Piazza) marriage has become incredibly shaky; Annie (Melanie Lynskey) drinks too much and her soon-to-be husband, Matt (Jason Ritter), turns a blind eye to the problem; Jessie (Clea DuVall) is in a strained relationship with Sarah (Natasha Lyonne); and Jack (Ben Schwartz) is avoiding dealing with a recent trauma by losing himself in a new relationship with a surprisingly young woman named Lola (Alia Shawkat). Ruby and Peter may be the reason the friends have gathered, but it soon becomes clear that everyone is in need of a reality check.
A story like the one found in The Intervention lives and dies on the likability of the cast. Fortunately for Duvall, she has surrounded herself with friends and industry peers whose shared chemistry conveys a sense of realness that makes it possible for anyone to find someone they relate to on screen. It only takes a matter of minutes for the film to establish itself as a sort of mirror for anyone in their late 20s or 30s circle of friends, and the problems plaguing the group are diverse, yet fairly common. The film comes to life when the problems are pushed into the forefront, which is often a result of actions by Schwartz and his incredibly compelling performance. Likewise, the work of Smulder and Piazza in light of their friends’ confrontation is good enough to leave you on the edge of your seat. You never expect death or violence, nor do you get any, but there is an element of spontaneity to the story that leaves you guessing how everyone will make it through the weekend with their friendship(s) in tact.
The Intervention’s biggest downfall is its presentation, which often feels stiff even in the story’s most engaging moments. Duvall’s knack for writing exceeds her talent for directing, but as this is her first feature-length foray into both areas of filmmaking the shortcomings present are easy to forgive. The other issue is the sheer volume of story threads and how fitting them all into a runtime of 90 minutes forces certain arcs to feel truncated while others are outright exhausted. Duvall claims to have written the film for Lynskey, so it stands to reason that Annie has the biggest chunk of screen time amongst the friends. This would be fine if her story was also the most interesting, but there are arguments for every couple’s struggles being just as, if not more important.
If The Intervention were a mini-series stretched over three or four hours the final results would likely be more satisfying than what is found in Clea Duvall’s filmmaking debut, but as is there is a lot to love about this feature. The performances of everyone involved are a joy to watch unfold even if they feel cut short due to the film’s brisk runtime. I believe we will see more of Duvall’s work on the big screen in the years to come, and if there is any kind of deity watching out for cinemagoers, there will be plenty more opportunities for people like Lynskey, Piazza, and Schwartz to showcase their dramatic chops. This isn’t the kind of movie we will be discussing in five years’ time, but for a generation that missed the hype surrounding The Big Chill I believe The Intervention will do just fine reminding them that growing up is hard on everyone.