MOVIE OF THE WEEK April 20: LITTLE PINK HOUSE
Courtney Balaker’s “Little Pink House” is a compelling drama based on the true story of Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a nurse who isn’t looking for anything bigger than a quiet life in the pink cottage she renovated herself in a decidedly unglamorous part of New London, Connecticut. But she’s destined to become the national face of an emotional court battle over eminent domain after the city comes for her home — and those of her neighbors — in the early 2000s so that pharmaceutical corporate giant Pfizer can build a new facility on the land. \Continue reading…
The U.S. Constitution allows the government to seize private land in the name of the public good — a condition that the politicians and lawyers working on the Pfizer/New London deal argue is more than met, given the flood of new jobs and tax money that will *surely* come to the city as a result of the plan. But Susette and her neighbors, most of whom are longtime working-class residents who can’t imagine calling anywhere else home, beg to differ, claiming that their rights as home owners outweigh any corporate claims to their property. So begins a long, complex legal fight that will eventually go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — and focus the public eye squarely on the controversial issue of eminent domain.
Keener delivers an excellent lead performance as Susette, a woman who feels deeply but finds it hard to express those emotions. She’s surrounded by supportive men — including her boyfriend, Tim (Callum Keith Rennie); her outspoken neighbor/friend, Billy (Colin Cunningham); and idealistic lawyer Scott Bullock (Giacomo Baessato) — and, interestingly, opposed by another strong woman, Charlotte Wells (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who helps orchestrate the city’s deal with Pfizer. But this is really Keener’s movie; without Susette, there’s no heart at the center of this emotional story.
“Little Pink House” is a slow-burn drama; like its main character, it’s quiet and thoughtful, noticing the small moments and making them feel big. It’s that attention to detail that makes you care so much about Susette and her beloved home — thanks to a brief but very effective remodeling montage early in the film, you realize how very much of herself she put into her little pink house. It’s truly her sanctuary, which makes its potential loss so painful to think about, both for Susette and for viewers. And it makes her tireless efforts to stand up and fight all the more cheer-worthy. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
MaryAnn Johanson Courtney Balaker makes a solid debut with this old-fashioned-in-the-best-way social-justice drama. Small but oh-so important movies like this one have gotten pushed out of cinemas in recent years, which is even worse now that we seem to need them more than ever. This is a great reminder of why they’re so necessary. And it’s always terrific to see the totally fab Catherine Keener sink her teeth into a juicy role… something else we need more of onscreen.
Susan Wloszczyna: May 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 plaintive. Read full review.
Anne Brodie: Catherine Keener nails the quiet power of accidental activist Susette Kelo in the infamous eminent domain legal battle over her home in the Fort Trumbull area of New London Connecticut in 1997. Newly single – again – Susette finds a gem, a modest waterfront home that she buys and lovingly renovates by herself. Soon, she’s asked to sell to an entity representing Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. The giant corporation seeks to demolish all the homes in the area, “clean up the blight” and start making Viagra while claiming to improve the city, apparently by rendering hundreds homeless. It wants the waterfront location without having to “look down on the tenements”. Well real people live in those tenements, only they call them homes. Kelo is reluctant to make any noise at first but realises that what Pfizer is doing is immoral and illegal and she refuses to sell. Threats, a suspicious fire next door and constant legal obstacles only harden her resolve to take on the big boys, and girl,the corporation’s uncaring mouthpiece played by Jeanne Tripplehorn. The battle went on for years. Keener brings incredible warmth and down to earth realism to the role, she is magnetic and yet ordinary, a people’s heroine. The film dismantles the use of the term eminent domain by Pfizer, as it certainly never intended to build roads or hospitals as law required, yet few politicians called them on it. Courtney Balaker’s ode to the fighting spirit is quick, efficient, entertaining, suspenseful and galling, and of course, celebrates everyday heroism.
Sandie Angulo Chen: The landmark Supreme Court case Kelo v. New London may not be as instantly recognizable as Loving v. Virginia, Roe v. Wade, or Brown v. Board of Education, but it’s a milestone decision with a fascinating backstory that every American home owner should know and understand. Regardless of your personal opinion about eminent domain, writer-director Courtney Balaker (who along with her business partner and husband Ted Balaker is an outspoken libertarian filmmaker/producer) makes it clear with this biographical drama that the poor and working class are disproportionately affected by public domain “takings.” Catherine Keener is excellent as the named plaintiff Susette Kelo, whose titular Little Pink House is claimed by her Connecticut city, so it (along with dozens of others) can be redeveloped, primarily for a planned headquarters for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Susette, an EMT/nurse, loves her waterfront cottage in working-class Fort Turnbull, and she refuses to sell it to the New London Development Corp, headed by an ambitious college president played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, just so a private company can build on her land. The two women – both hardworking and committed to their goals but flawed and utterly human – are effective character foils. In the spirit of Erin Brockovich, North Country and Silkwood, this is a fact-based drama that deserves an audience.
Nell Minow: Exquisite cinematography by Alexandre Lehmann is as important as Catherine Keener’s powerful performance as Susette Kelo in evoking the power of home, and the ferocity of her fight to keep her little pink house on the water as the state tries to seize an entire community so they can knock it all down and bring in a corporate manufacturing facility. While the politicians claim that the area is not worth saving, writer/director Courtney Balaker shows us the simple beauty and sense of connection that makes it home to people willing to fight for it.
Esther Iverem: The case of working class whites in Connecticut fighting against eminent domain to keep their homes, which is the subject of the important new movie “Little Pink House,” provided plain proof of the chickens coming home to roost in post-Reagan America, when the rightward march and economic crisis began to noticeably impact White people. The opening salvo was President Ronald Reagan’s firing of (primarily White) striking air traffic controllers in 1981. The battle of Susette Kelo and her neighbors in New London is a plot point on the same graph line leading directly to today’s opioid crisis and actual decrease in the life expectancy among White Americans. Courtney Balaker’s treatment of Kelo’s story is like that plot point—no frills—but is buoyed by the performance of Catherine Keener in the lead role.
Jennifer MerinLITTLE PINK HOUSE, a truth-based narrative from first feature fimmaker Courtney Balaker. The story revolves around justice-seeker Suzette Kelo (a never-better Catherine Keener), who led a valiant community-based fight to save privately owned homes in New London, Connecticut’s Fort Trumbull neighborhood from demolition by the city’s assertion of eminent domain rights — for the purpose of allocating the land to Pfizer for construction of a pharma factory for production of its best-selling drug, Viagra. Kelo took her groundbreaking lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court.
Even if you know Kelo’s case from news coverage, you’ll be kept in suspense throughout the film, astonished by the corrupt government’s manipulations and in awe of Kelo’s determination. And what became of Kelo’s lovely and beloved pink cottage with the waterfront view? No spoilers here.
Cate Marquis 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. Read full review.
Kristen Page Kirby: The catch with movies based on real-life events is that, often, real life isn’t exciting enough to be made into a movie. That’s probably why “Little Pink House,” about a small community’s fight against an eminent domain action that would take their homes, doesn’t really get going until the case does. Once the film is moving, it’s a brisk trip as the case winds its way through the courts. Catherine Keener does a subtle, admirable job as heroine Susette Kelo, whose home is the titular little pink house. Though the story’s villains are often painted with too broad a brush, Jeanne Tripplehorn manages to humanize what could have been just another morally questionable high-heeled woman in a business suit. As Kelo rallies her neighbors — and, eventually, lawyers and lawmakers — to her cause, the contemporary relevance of “Little Pink House” becomes clearer. When it comes to the little guy, the key to political power is passionate, knowledgeable civic engagement
Title: Little Pink House
Directors: Courtney Balaker
Release Date: April 20, 1018
Running Time: 98 minutes
Screenwriter: Courtney Balaker
Production Company: Korchula Productions
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Marilyn Ferinand, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Esther Iverem, MaryAnn Johanson, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Kristen Page-Kirby, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Other Movies Opening This Week
Edited by Jennifer Merin