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Housekeeping (1987)

By Adele Marley | Posted

You gotta love flaky Aunt Sylvie, the wistful, absent-minded vagrant who finds herself the guardian of two orphaned teenage girls in this superbly quirky and diverting American debut from Scottish director Bill Forsyth (Local Hero, Comfort and Joy). Sylvie (Christine Lahti, never better) hops trains and rides the rails, sits in a dark house at dusk so she can "enjoy the evening," collects newspapers to use as park-bench bedding, hoards tin cans and stacks them into gleaming pyramids. But in the 1950s Pacific Northwest, being the charge of a hobo--even one as benign and contented as Sylvie--isn't as cute as it sounds. Shy, bookish Ruthie (Sara Walker), the older of the sisters, embraces Sylvie's dreamy impracticality and meandering approach to life; ambitious, square Lucille (Andrea Burchill) yearns for structure and a more conventional upbringing. Their differing opinion about their caretaker destroys their once-symbiotic bond but helps them ultimately forge their own identities and find their own paths in life. The film is much more mirthful than the somber Marilynne Robinson novel on which it's based--Forsyth, who also wrote the script, and Lahti get a lot of comic mileage out of Sylvie's kooky obliviousness--without sacrificing the book's darker undercurrents.

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