LITTLE PINK HOUSE — Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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little pink house posterMay we all be so lucky to have an always-mesmerizing actress like Catherine Keener play us if our lives ever inspire a film. Within the first few minutes of Little Pink House, the two-time Oscar nominee swiftly establishes real-life paramedic and nurse Susette Kelo as a thoughtful and quietly alluring life force to be reckoned with. Just the way she tends to the ailing mother of an old classmate and puts her at ease during an ambulance ride suggests she would be someone you would want to be at your side in a fight. It is not so surprising, then, that Susette would end up being the compelling face and voice of a nearly decade-long legal battle that would pit Big Pharma against blue-collar residents over the right of their town’s officials to invoke “eminent domain” to force them out of their humble abodes. The landmark case would eventually be tried by the Supreme Court in 2005 with Susette as the plaintiff. Continue reading…

There’s a brief early flashback to a terse letter she’s written to her soon-to-be ex-second husband that states, “I need to find peace. I’m leaving.” Susette decides to retreat to the run-down, working-class area near New London, Conn., where she grew up. She falls in love with a Victorian fixer-upper by the river – no matter that it is near a sewage plant — and proceeds to turn it into a cozy pink-hued abode. That sequence had me wishing that Keener, who subtly brings out the old hippie-like soul in her character, had her own show on HGTV – especially when she ingeniously fixes a leaky faucet with a tampon. Along the way, she makes friends with an outspoken, activist-minded deli owner (Colin Cunningham), who is struggling to make ends meet, and a gray-haired fox of an antiques vendor (Callum Keith Rennie), who eventually wins her heart.

But a couple years after her move, Susette and her salt-of-the-earth neighbors get a rude awakening when they learn of plans to bulldoze their properties. Pfizer, it seems, would like to build a big plant to pump out its newly discovered miracle drug Viagra along with a gentrified playground featuring a luxury hotel, health club and high-end condos. Their argument: The boost for the economy would be for the public good.

Director, writer and producer Courtney Moorehead Balaker has a better grasp of the human elements of her story than she does with the legal entanglements, which come in fits and starts as they drag out over an expanse of time. Clearly, something like Erin Brockovich is the template here with hiss-able antagonists in the form of an unnamed sleazy governor (Aaron Roberts) and Jeanne Tripplehorn as Charlotte Wells, an ambitious real-estate lobbyist (so polished, she sleeps in full makeup), who eventually becomes a scapegoat when the growing opposition to the development begins to attract bad publicity for her clients. More could have been made of having two strong, complex yet polar-opposite females at the center of each side of the debate. But Balaker gets too bogged down with the Capra-esque elements of her script rather than involving us more in the ironic turns the case eventually takes. Still, Little Pink House is worth a watch if only for those who, like me, are keen on Keener.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.