Written by Michael Clawson
“You’ve got a fish in your pocket.”
Two orphaned sisters growing up in ’50s rural Idaho aren’t quite sure what to make of their eccentric Aunt Sylvie, whose peculiar habits – hoarding newspapers, spending evenings with the lights off, napping on park benches with a book spread open on her face – director Bill Forsyth looks at with affection and compassion rather than judgment or condescension. Nothing seems to phase Sylvie: not the house flooding with water up to their knees after a storm, and certainly not Ruth and Lucille’s truancy; Sylvie is happy to write her nieces a phony sick note so they can join her on some whimsical little adventure in the woods around the house where she has come to live them. At first, middle-school-aged Ruth and Lucille both politely, patiently tolerate their de facto new guardian’s offbeat behavior, but eventually, one of them gets fed up with the embarrassment, and this lovely film becomes a wistful tale of family ties severed because of social conventions and personality differences. Working in a vaguely dreamy mode that’s just left of magical realism, Forsyth gets three wonderfully endearing performances from Christine Lahti, Andrea Burchill, and Sara Walker. Ruth’s absence from the film’s second half is tragic in part because it means less screen time for Walker.
Housekeeping is currently streaming on most popular VOD services.