LITTLE PINK HOUSE — Review by Cate Marquis

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A pink house is not for everyone but it was just right for Susette Kelo, especially with a lovely river view. When a local economic redevelopment organization tries to seize the Connecticut cottage she so lovingly rehabbed for a project to lure a Big Pharma company to the financially-strapped town, she fights – all the way to the Supreme Court. Continue reading…

There is a bit of Frank Capra mixed with Erin Brockovich in the true story-inspired Little Pink House. Oscar-nominee Catherine Keener plays Kelo in a moving performance as an ordinary woman pushed too far in this film from Courtney Balaker, making her directorial debut.

After her marriage failed, paramedic Kelo was looking for a place to start over. When she finds the little cottage in a working-class community near New London, Connecticut, it looked like the perfect fixer-upper. The neighbors are mostly elderly but they are friendly and the modest house are well-kept. Kelo paints the little house pink and starts fixing it up.

Kelo’s little pink house is a stepping off point for this true story about a fight to save a neighborhood from redevelopment. Susette Kelo’s name may not sound familiar but many viewers will realize quickly they know this story.

Keener is the center of this film, and gives a moving performance of this determined woman who simply wants to live in the little house she has lovingly rehabbed and in the quiet little neighborhood where she has started to make friends. Keener’s work is supported by a strong cast, including excellent turns by Callum Keith Rennie and Colin Cunningham as some of her neighbors in this fight, but the focus is very much on her character. Jeanne Tripplehorn gives a compelling, complex performance as the woman who heads up the redevelopment project.

When someone knocks on her door with an offer to buy her house, Kelo tells them she has no interest in selling. But the offer is part of a larger scheme launched by the governor and others. By declaring the modest-income area “blighted,: they plan to use eminent domain to redevelopment the area, a project aimed at attracting the drug company Pfizer, which was looking to expand following the spectacular debut of its new drug Viagra. The filmmakers can’t resist a few Viagra jokes but overall, this film focuses on these ordinary people and their struggle just to stay in their homes.

A band of neighbors come together, including the mayor, and try to fight back, a classic tale of ordinary people standing up the the powerful. Not everything in the film works but what keeps it grounded and real is Keener’s affecting performance, one that lifts it enough to win us over.

Kelo and her neighbors are engaged in a brave struggle in a brave new world of growing economic power that leaves people of modest means in the dust in the name of an amorphous claim of common good – mostly to boost the tax base. There are a lot of issues simmering under the surface but director. Balaker keeps the focus on the people, and particularly Keener, who keeps up her winning streak by offering another excellent performance. The story is good, and well-told enough that even if you know the ending, it still keeps you involved. Little Pink House is a worthwhile true story film about an issue, eminent domain, still resonating in our society.

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.