Dir: Frank Novak. US. 2000. 90 mins.
Prod co: Modernica Pictures. Domestic dist (US): Shooting Gallery. Prod: Mark Mathis. Scr: Frank Novak. DoP: Alex Vendler. Prod des: Elizabeth Burhop. Editor: Fritz Feick. Main cast: Bob Mills (Don), Petra Westen (Donatella), Tacey Adams (Marion), Zia (Chuck), Al Schuermann (Joe), Andrew Eichner (Don Junior).
Good Housekeeping occupies a squalid patch of Middle America that will be familiar to fans of Harmony Korine. However, Novak is not interested so much in freakishness for its own sake as in the way certain lost cogs in the huge, rattling American psyche can give a semblance of normality to things that are, in fact, totally weird. So an ongoing argument between husband and wife escalates via the building of a Berlin-style partition wall to the firing of a rocket launcher. And when a punkette dies - or so it seems - from an overdose, putting her in with the supermarket garbage is soon shown to be the logical thing to do (when her boyfriend vetoes a plan to cut her in two first, he is met with a sneer of "Who are you, Mr Politically Correct'").
Don is unemployed and collects action toys, still in their plastic display packets (one deal brings him "an early edition of Pinhead with an extra severed head"). He spends his time swapping insults with his working wife Donatella, who is having an affair with another woman. Rows flare up, Don is egged on to make a stand for masculinity by his beer-drinking friends, and the police turn up again and again to try to defuse the conflict. Director Frank Novak financed this, his first feature, with the money he makes from a successful 1960s retro furniture business. Cult arthouse audiences in the States will enjoy the low-budget, slightly tacky feel of the thing (full marks for production design; the squalor of the green leatherette sofa that much of the beer-swilling action takes place on has to be seen to be believed).
They may be less enthusiastic about the occasional wooden scene straight out of the student video repertoire, and the frankly bizarre soundtrack (Elgar meets Lynard Skynard). Overseas, Good Housekeeping, which screened in Critics Week at Cannes, will go down well wherever people have a place in their hearts for dysfunction, handheld cameras and bad taste.