The Estate (2022) Review: The Importance of Directing Talented Actors

Why Having a Star-Studded Cast Doesn’t Always Work

Reem Abouchleih, Managing Editor

CW: Brief mentions of sex, incest

Brief Synopsis: Two sisters – Savanna (Anna Faris) and Macey (Toni Collette) – find out that their awful Aunt Hilda (Kathleen Turner) is terminally ill and plan to become the sole beneficiaries of her wealthy estate. When they arrive at their aunt’s house, the sisters find out that their cousins also have plans to be written into her will.

Racing to the Movie 

It had been a particularly quiet night when I turned to my friend sitting on the couch beside me and said, “There’s bound to be something in the theater… right?” 

I frantically rushed to the AMC Framingham website and looked for the most decent-looking movie poster I could find. After scrolling past a set of recently released rumored-to-be awful horror movies  – Smile, Pray for the Devil, and Halloween Ends – I finally settled on an eccentric-looking movie poster featuring five oddly-posed 40-somethings that was reminiscent of a Night at the Museum promotional ad. I noticed that two of the people on the poster were renowned scream queens Toni Collette and Anna Faris. With only 25 minutes left to showtime, my friend and I rushed to the theater – not needing to be further convinced of this film’s potential. 

The Awkward Plot 

The Estate starts off with sisters Savanna (Anna Faris) and Macey (Toni Collette) meeting outside of a bank as Savanna relays to Macey that the bank manager did not grant them a much-needed loan, meaning that they will have to close their struggling cafe soon. Even though the scene itself is supposed to be comical – as Savanna runs away after she throws a hot coffee on the wrong bank manager – I couldn’t get over Anna Faris’ hilarious pronunciation of curse words, with her accentuating every word like Cindy Campbell from Scary Movie would. Okay, she’s a little awkward, I thought to myself, but maybe it’ll get better. It did not. 

Savanna and Macey arrive at their rich aunt’s house where they see that Aunt Hilda is already being taken care of by their seemingly-conniving cousin Beatrice (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her good-natured husband James (Ron Livingston). One of the film’s strengths lies in DeWitt and Livingston’s back-and-forth banter; despite the script lacking in most areas, seeing two actors have chemistry (which was rare in this film) was refreshing. The two did not have to convince me that they were a couple in financial and emotional turmoil; the hilarious passive-aggressive remarks made by Beatrice and James’ desperate attempt to get her to leave the house made us feel the tension. 

Then, Savanna and Macey’s icky cousin Richard (David Duchovny) arrives. Perhaps the point of Richard’s character was to alleviate how depressing the plot could get, but his presence altogether came off as nasty – from the all-too-often passes he tries to make at Macey to the 4-minute speech he goes on about how incest should be normalized but that “[Macey,] we’ll adopt cause we don’t want them looking f**ked up”. However, I must say that the funniest line of the movie comes when Richard is trying to explain his rationale to Macey, and Macey yells back at him, “Do you see the problem with citing cousin porn for why you think incest is okay??”

Savanna and Macey are already at a disadvantage because Aunt Hilda thinks that ‘the sun shines out of Beatrice’s ass’. In an attempt to level the playing field, the sisters listen to Hilda’s longing for sexual interaction with a man ‘for the first time in decades’, bringing Hilda her high school crush, Bill (Danny Vinson). The women arrive at Bill’s grimy, disgusting apartment and notice something is off when he says the studio was ‘paid for by the program’; Bill reveals to them that he “used to have a little problem with flashing people when I was drunk”. Savanna and Macey, anxious to bring her a sex offender but not wanting to lose Hilda’s money, bring Bill over for dinner where Hilda and Bill hilariously get engaged after talking for not even 20 minutes. A majority of the film’s twists were highly predictable, but upon the engagement announcement, the whole movie theater filled with laughter. But then again, I would expect nothing less from Kathleen Turner’s nuanced performance. 

Overall Thoughts

My main problem with this film is that the premise, “Let’s finesse our dying aunt out of her money by competing with our other two ridiculous cousins” is hilarious, but the execution made it feel awkward (and not the good The Office kind!). While the actors may have had a blast on set together, Dean Craig’s directing makes the actors look out of place and amateurish even though we know them to be legends that command the silver screen. After every ‘joke’ made, the movie jump cuts to another actor’s face to capture their reaction, but we only see them awkwardly stare at each other, making a “Huh? What?” face at the person speaking. 

We know that Collette and Faris are queens of comedy. Collette recently starred in Fun Mom Dinner and Knives Out, and Faris’ involvement in the Scary Movie franchise proves that she has incredible comedic timing. This is why The Estate was so especially painful – Craig’s directing sucked the comedic timing and charisma from these talented actors. It would have been more entertaining for the director to let these comedians improv with a basic script rather than have them strictly follow a script. Even though the film takes place in Aunt Hilda’s multimillion-dollar mansion, the film’s color palette is desaturated and the clothes look ‘expensive cheap’, like the set was trying to furnish the mansion with all the most expensive items but had to settle for knock-off designers instead. No film budget has been made public, but I cannot imagine that it was more than $1 million (excluding actors’ paychecks) – it certainly does not look expensive. 

Given that the film itself was not excellent, the end surprised me with how predictable yet satisfying it was. After the cousins get Aunt Hilda to sign the papers as she is legitimately passing away in her bed, Hilda musters out “You’re all assholes” in her raspy voice and dies right after. This is the first moment in the film where the characters (and audience) are left to reflect on their objectively immoral actions; there was a brief gasp in the theater before the screen went black. After the funeral has happened, the cousins meet with Hilda’s lawyer to discuss compensation. The lawyer reveals that of Hilda’s $17 million estate, the cousins would get nothing because Hilda had avoided paying taxes for her entire life. 

While this was a certainly-deserved fate for the cousins – as Macey says, “we took advantage of a poor old miserable woman” – the ending left something to be desired because we did not know what the overall ‘vibe’ or theme of the movie was. Because the film itself felt really awkward, by the time it reached its 90-minute runtime, we still didn’t really know what the film’s vibe was. I don’t believe that all films need to have a message – some can be just for aesthetic purposes – but because it didn’t set a tone or mood, the audience then didn’t know how to react in the time we were supposed to reflect on the characters’ actions. 

I can argue that I have spent Friday nights watching worse movies at the theater. Though I didn’t quite enjoy the movie, it gave me something to do, and a solid 7 minutes of comedy gold in its 95-minute runtime. However, I would not recommend paying for this movie – whether it be in theaters or even on Amazon Prime. If you still want to watch this, I recommend waiting until it comes out on Peacock or Vudu for free.

Movie Score: 3/10! The film would have been much better had it established a tone and script.