It’s Christmas in New York, but not everyone is feeling festive! Beneath the veneer of one picture-perfect family, long-held secrets are threatening to spill over and upend more than a simple holiday gathering. But perhaps change is the gift?
Frank, Kathy, Kaitlin, and Sadie are the family everyone wants to be. With a mansion-like abode, well-to-do parents, cheeky sibling rivalry mixed with cozy affection, and an abundance of good humor, all is well in suburbia. But, like so much in life, not everything is as it seems. Father Frank (Gene Pope) is wildly unhappy, both in his job and his marriage. Unsuspecting mom Kathy (Mel Harris) is ready to crack under a barely contained grief. Meanwhile their daughters, Kaitlin (Roxi Pope) and Sadie (Emily Bennett), cleave to coping mechanisms, with Kaitlin hiding her true identity under snarky comebacks while Sadie decides to morph into a junior Stepford Wife. Throw in an aborted wedding shower, a wild night in Brooklyn, a ton of molly, and watch this house of cards fall.
King of Knives is a near-perfect dark comedy with a delightful cast. Gene Pope does double duty as cowriter and star of this vehicle in a convincing role as a failed father and husband caught in the spiral of a midlife crisis. The fact that the viewer will (mostly) root for Frank is no small feat, as he’s done some seriously unsavory things – and it’s Pope’s portrayal that helps keep things lighthearted, overall, in what could’ve otherwise veered towards the maudlin.
The MVP is, of course, Thirtysomething’s Mel Harris (a casting coup!), whose transition from housewife to something else is subtle and sweet. Newcomer Roxi Pope and acting vet Emily Bennett are both wonderful as the daughters caught between what their home life was, mixed with the reality of shifting alliances. All are a pleasure to watch. The supporting cast is also spot-on; specifically Justin Sams and Kara Young each shining in pivotal roles.
Unfortunately, I can’t find much information on cowriter Lindsay Joy, but I hope to hear more of her voice in the future. This script is damn funny, with some bon mots that won’t be leaving my mind anytime soon. (When grouchy Kaitlin complains about their neighbor’s overwhelming Christmas décor and asks her family if it “makes them want to kick her ass,” Kathy replies, “It drives me nuts, but it doesn’t make me want to sodomize my neighbor,” without missing a beat. It goes from there!)
The one big blip in an otherwise solid offering is a heart-wrenching and disturbing flashback that’s completely out of tone with the rest of the film. I understand it’s a pivotal plot point as to why this family is falling apart, but the writers have already done a great job of alluding to what happened. Trust that your audience will figure it out, without beating them over the head. The actual act didn’t need to be included, and it detracts from the overall vibe. Still, KOK is effective and surprisingly fun, especially given the subject matter.
Wisdom comes from unexpected places, and you just might find what you’re looking for here. Either way, you will definitely smile. Thumbs up.
Nuggets – more film thoughts:
* This movie features the sweetest dancing breakup scene I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to spoil it, but shuffling over the torn photos is a perfect metaphor. Beautifully done.
* Needless to say, the use of the King of Knives (also referred to as Swords) tarot card is emblematic. It’s an underused talisman, and it’s done very cleverly here.
* Here’s hoping the advertising agency is suitably trounced for their embarrassing rendition of an "urban" chipmunk, and that Frank’s talented assistant rises in the ranks. (Trust me – this will all make sense!)
* The weather, or lack thereof, is pretty hilarious. Though there are repeated references to winter, it looks like it was filmed in June. Assume from that what you will!