In adapting Ann Leary’s New York Times bestseller, The Good House, husband-and-wife filmmaking team and screenwriters Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky were drawn to the insightful depiction of Hildy and the fact that the book tells the story entirely from her point of view. “We are always interested in female protagonists, especially older women, who are rarely seen in leading roles on screen.”
In The Good House, Sigourney Weaver delivers a stellar performance as Hildy Good, a realtor in an idyllic New England town, whose wickedly funny tongue and seeming success mask her life’s one dark truth: She enjoys her wine a bit too much. But Hildy’s good at keeping it together — until, that is, a rekindled romance with high school flame Frank Getchell (Kevin Kline) sets in motion a chain of events that forces a decades-in-the-making confrontation with Hildy’s buried past. Based on the best-selling novel, The Good House is a multifaceted portrait of a proud, resilient woman who wouldn’t think of asking for help…and whose life won’t change until she does.
Following a year in the life of the wry and wildly imperfect Hildy as she attempts to reclaim her self-esteem, her business and her life, producer Berry Welsh had little doubt that the drama and intrigue in Leary’s novel The Good House would provide the material for a compelling, relatable and slyly funny film.
“You’re sucked into Hildy’s world,” Welsh observes. “She takes you on a journey with her and you feel like you’ve become friends. But you’re at odds with her at certain points because she’s at odds with herself.”
Welsh and his fellow producers, Jane Rosenthal and Aaron Ryder, approached the husband-and-wife filmmaking team of Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky to adapt the book for the screen and direct it.
“In looking at the book, we saw the perfect match for Maya and Wally,” says Welsh. They are both familiar with the setting and the culture of Massachusetts, especially Maya, who grew up there. She knows this world, these people, these characters. It was really fun to get that insider’s point of view.”
Forbes and Wolodarsky were drawn to the insightful depiction of Hildy and the fact that the book tells the story entirely from her point of view.
“Hildy is a dyed-in-the-wool Old Yankee living in the town where she grew up,” says Forbes. “Her family has lived in Massachusetts for hundreds of years and she claims to have descended from Sarah Good, one of the accused witches in Salem. We are always interested in female protagonists, especially older women, who are rarely seen in leading roles on screen.”
As in the book, their script relies on first-person testimony from Hildy, who has a series of self-deprecating monologues in which she directly addresses the audience. “Her voice is funny and strong,” says Wolodarsky.
“The trick is that you are always with her — but she is completely unreliable. It gradually sneaks up on you that she has a serious problem. We have always been drawn to stories where people are in conflict with themselves.”
In fact, they made very few changes to the book’s plot, according to Wolodarsky.
“We had to narrow down the focus of the story as you always do when you adapt for the screen. But Ann Leary set up a great template for us and we tailored it for Sigourney as we got to know her.”
Ann Leary was delighted with the adaptation of her novel
“The first time I spoke to Maya and Wally, it was clear that the book was in the right hands,” she says. “As a writer, I know that every reader brings something to the book that I didn’t put there. That also happens with an adaptation, which is really wonderful. I was sometimes surprised and always impressed by the things Wally and Maya chose to keep, what they let go of and what they added to the screenplay.”
According to Leary, who spent her teen years in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the inspiration for the story’s fictional setting, the directors have captured the essence of New England culture.
“The feedback I received from people about the book was that they’re really fascinated by the New England persona,” says the author. “There’s kind of a quiet nobility there that we don’t see much anymore. It’s a part of the country where the richest people proudly drive the most beat-up station wagons. That’s how most of the people in this movie are.”
The film also captures a lesson the author learned herself when grappling with addiction
“I think people who don’t understand alcoholism don’t really understand denial,” she explains. “They might believe it’s a form of lying, but they don’t understand that an alcoholic is actually living in a different reality — and they believe it, even though it’s different to those around them.”
Leary admits that the star-studded cast was hard for her to grasp initially. “Maya called and told me Sigourney was on her way to Nova Scotia, where we shot,” she remembers. “That’s when I said, ‘Wait, what? Is this really happening?’ I especially couldn’t wait to see Sigourney and Kevin together on screen again. The entire cast is beyond what I could have wished for.”
Weaver arrived on set ready to sink her teeth into the juicy role. “What a jackpot of a character!” she exclaims. “I was excited to be able to tell the story of an older woman from her point of view. When does that happen? It’s such a witty script and an unusual love story. We meet Hildy at a moment when the things that earned her enormous success have stopped working for her. Her business has been usurped, she feels like her kids have turned on her and she is still supporting them and her ex-husband — who left her for a man, by the way. If she wants to go home after another long day, take off her shoes, unhook her bra and open a bottle of Pinot Noir, who are we to begrudge her?”
Fighting her way to become the top realtor in her area has taken a toll on Hildy. “It’s been a slippery slope,” notes Weaver. “I think it’s so truthful that someone like Hildy would end up with just dogs for company, because they don’t judge her. She doesn’t analyze herself, doesn’t look back and reexperience things that happened. She’s done the best she could.”
Making the film during the Covid pandemic gives it a special resonance, the actress says. “A lot of people started self-medicating at the time. Coming from a family of entertaining alcoholics, I was interested in Hildy’s relationship with liquor. When I first started playing her, I thought she was fine, but the truth crept up on me just as it does on Hildy. Eventually that ‘glass or two’ stops being her best friend. But you will never stop rooting for her.”
Forbes and Wolodarsky were the perfect team to helm the production, she says. “After talking with them I knew it would never become mawkish, even in Hildy’s worst moments. They make it moving and entertaining at the same time.”
Declaring Weaver “a national treasure,” Wolodarsky adds, “We are huge fans. The second we were told she was interested in playing the part we could see her embodying the character. She is commanding and funny, as she peels back the shell that covers Hildy’s vulnerability and loneliness. It’s such a great role for her and something we hadn’t seen her do before. Watching, you get the feeling that she can do anything she wants.”
Kline plays Frank Getchell, Hildy’s long-ago high school sweetheart. A man who cares little for the expectations of his more respectable neighbors, Frank is considered the local oddball, but his grizzled surface hides great depth. “There’s a Frank Getchell in any self-respecting New England town,” says Leary. “He’s the guy everybody thinks is a deadbeat because he doesn’t care about appearances. In Frank’s case, he’s the local garbage contractor, but he also owns a lot of really valuable real estate and just doesn’t feel like selling it. He’s been in love with Hildy since they were young.”
Weaver says it was a gift to collaborate with her old friend Kline again. “We enjoy working together so much,” she says. “With Kevin, I can go into a scene and let whatever happens happen. I trust him so completely — almost like a trapeze act. Wherever I went, Kevin would be there.”
Frank was Hildy’s first love, but the pair parted ways when he joined the military and she went to college. “Frank reminds her of the faraway place she came from and she doesn’t like that,” according to Weaver. “Suddenly this love story comes out of nowhere. Frank makes her feel taken care of, something she’s never really had before.”
Kline was the first and only choice for the character, according to the directors. “We launched a full-on charm offensive to get him,” says Wolodarsky. “We came up with every possible argument for him taking on the role. It helped a lot that he and Sigourney had worked together before.”
Weaver and Kline first met when they co-hosted the Obie Awards in 1981, Kline remembers. In addition to three films together, they also did an evening of Shakespearean love scenes as a fundraiser for the New Victory Theater, “One of the many reasons I love Sigourney is I don’t have to bend over to kiss her in love scenes — which is much easier on my back,” the actor says. “She’s also very well educated and, more to the point, she’s smart. And she makes me laugh. A lot.”
Kline had seen Forbes and Wolodarsky’s earlier film Infinitely Polar Bear and knew he wanted to work with them if the opportunity ever arose. “The situations and the dialogue they write are realistic and natural, and not writerly or actorly,” he observes. “They have an ear for the quirky and off-beat without it being self-conscious.”
A rumpled, unkempt handyman is far from the image Kline usually projects, admits Forbes. “We rarely think of Kevin playing a ‘man of the people,’” she says. “He’s usually a bit posh. But he brings a certain musicality to everything he does and he’s really fun. As an actor he’s very playful and inventive, willing to try something new all the time.”
Frank, according to Kline, is happy being a supporting character in life’s drama. “He likes being outside, if not above, the fray. He’s not passionately seeking or selling anything, not chasing after success or acclaim. He’s just always sort of backstage, waiting in the wings. I would call him an observant outsider, like Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird. He’s content with his lot, not cynical, but a realist and a convivial loner.”
With its sly humor and appealing but complicated characters, The Good House turns the cliches of addiction and recovery inside out while still presenting an authentic and moving depiction. “We mirrored the experiences that we and so many people we know have had in life,” says Forbes. “Hildy, like many others, truly thinks that she doesn’t have a drinking problem. And all of us, like the people surrounding her, are prone to saying, if it makes those we care about happy, who are we to say it’s a problem? We liked the complexity as readers, as filmmakers and as people, without condemning or glorifying.”
Wolodarsky adds, “We wanted to bring as much humor to the movie as there is in the book. The story is not just a drama, which was a huge part of what we responded to. It’s a reflection of life, which can be quite funny even in its most difficult moments. It doesn’t diminish Hildy’s courage to include the sometimes-unintended humor that’s an integral part of life.”
Weaver sums it up well when she says, “It is going to be so much fun for audiences to take this ride with Hildy, even when she goes off the road. They are going to spend some time with someone they really will grow to like. She confides in us in a wonderfully wicked and witty way that allows us all to take that journey with her. We wonder if she will make it and we hope she does. I feel like we can all identify with the feeling that everything is fine until it isn’t.”
But as Forbes points out, “Hildy is a fighter, and we love watching her attempts to control her life. She has so much agency, she won’t give up. Then the story twists away from her and there’s an opportunity for redemption. We believe in second chances.”
MAYA FORBES & WALLY WOLODARSKY (Directors, Writers) are award-winning filmmakers who thrive on telling character-driven stories and working closely with their actors to create engaging performances that connect with audiences.
Most recently, the married creatives adapted and directed the feature The Polka King, which debuted to excellent reviews at Sundance in 2017.
Previously, Forbes made her directorial debut with the film Infinitely Polar Bear, which premiered at Sundance to critical acclaim. Based on her experiences growing up as a biracial child, the film stars Mark Ruffalo as a father struggling with bipolar disorder who tries to win back his wife (Zoe Saldana) by attempting to take full responsibility for their two young, spirited daughters. Produced by J.J. Abrams and Wally Wolodarsky, Infinitely Polar Bear was released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Also a writing team, Forbes and Wolodarsky penned Seeing Other People (which Wolodarsky also directed), Monsters. vs. Aliens and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. Among their other writing credits are Trolls and Trolls 2: World Tour as well as both A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey.
Forbes and Wolodarsky initially began their careers working separately in television. Wolodarsky wrote for “The Tracey Ullman Show” and wrote/produced for “The Simpsons.” Forbes wrote and produced for HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” The duo also wrote on the Emmy-winning limited series “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” for FX.
Forbes is a graduate of Harvard, where she worked on the Harvard Lampoon. Wolodarsky is a graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz.
THOMAS BEZUCHA (Writer) made his feature debut with Big Eden, which remains one of the most honored films in the history of gay and lesbian film festivals and landed him on Variety’slist of “10 Screenwriters to Watch” in 2000. His follow-up, 2006’s hit holiday comedy The Family Stone, had an ensemble cast featuring Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson and Sarah Jessica Parker, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by a Female Lead in a Musical/Comedy. Crime drama Let Him Go, which Bezucha adapted from the novel by Larry Watson, marks a significant shift in genre but returned Bezucha to the Montana setting of his first film and the theme of family bonds that threads through all of his work.
Bezucha directed Selena Gomez in family comedy Monte Carlo and wrote the screenplay for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, directed by Mike Newell and starring Lily James. Prior to his career in film, Bezucha spent a decade in creative services at Polo/Ralph Lauren, setting visual direction for store and environment design worldwide.
ANN LEARY (Author) is the New York Times bestselling author of a memoir and four novels including The Good House and, most recently, The Foundling. Her work has been translated into 18 languages and she has written for the New York Times, Ploughshares, National Public Radio, Redbook and Real Simple, among other publications. Her essay “Rallying to Keep the Game Alive” was adapted for the Amazon series “Modern Love.”
Leary currently resides in New York City with her husband.