Movie Review: “The Intervention”

Melanie Lynskey, Jason Ritter, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Lyonne, Alia Shawkat, Clea DuVall, Vincent Piazza, Ben Schwartz
Clea DuVall

With “The Intervention,” Clea DuVall leaves a striking impression with her feature-length directorial debut. The actress, who starred in the far too short-lived HBO series “Carnivale,” has written and directed an observant, funny and sometimes moving relationship film. Its similarities to famous old-friends-getting-together-for-the-weekend movies are apparent, but since DuVall’s story is driven more by honesty than conventions, its familiar qualities are not a problem.

Putting together an intervention often comes from the right place. And as misguided as Annie’s (Melanie Lynskey) idea of a marriage intervention may be, her heart is in the right place. Annie and some other longtime pals are tired of seeing two of their closest friends, Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza), remain stuck in a seemingly loveless marriage. They’re not the only couple on this getaway having problems, though. In an effort to try to resolve Ruby and Pete’s issues, Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) and Jessi (Clea DuVall), Jack (Ben Schwartz) and Lola (Alia Shawkat), and Annie and Matt (Jason Ritter) end up confronting their own relationship problems.

All of these conflicts unfold naturally, and that naturalism is inherent in DuVall’s thoughtful script. As the story progresses, the characters slowly reveal themselves to be more than what they initially appeared to be. Every single one of them, including a character that easily could’ve been reduced to a one-note caricature (Lola), is so well-drawn in DuVall’s script – each with their own problems, fears and motivations. These are fully-realized characters, and rarely does a simple conversation or confrontation ring false in “The Intervention,” except for maybe one of its broader scenes.

From the start, the film really does feel like old friends reuniting; nothing in “The Intervention” ever feels overly written. When a character reveals a piece of backstory, something that might change an audience’s perspective towards a character, it’s not exposition – it just feels like a piece of information that would naturally come up over the course of the weekend. The dialogue is always authentic, even when a character is speaking in theme, like during a suitably awkward conversation about Hitler.

The characters, as flawed as they might be, are people you actually want to watch and see succeed. Not a single one of them fails to elicit empathy, not even when Annie, who has a drinking problem, reaches her lowest point. A part of the reason why they’re empathetic is because they’re real. There’s never any question, whether joking around or being completely candid or secretive with one another, that they have a shared history. Smulders, Lyonne, Schwartz and the rest of the ensemble are authentic in every moment, making these friends appear as close as can be in sometimes the smallest of ways.

“The Intervention,” it must be said, is also just a really entertaining drama – a feel-good movie that doesn’t try so desperately to be a feel-good movie, partly because DuVall relies more on situational comedy than straight up jokes. None of the humor is cloying or treated as a device to provide levity at the end of every dramatic scene. The laughs certainly add a lightness to the film, but it never undermines the drama. DuVall’s grasp on tone is just another one of the many strengths she exhibits as a filmmaker with this genuine, often comforting movie.