"The Estate" a painfully unfunny waste of a terrific cast

The Estate (2022)

In theory, “The Estate” has every reason to work. The reasons? Toni Collette and Anna Faris play sisters, and the supporting cast includes Rosemarie DeWitt, David Duchovny, Ron Livingston, and Kathleen Turner. However, one of life’s greatest mysteries alongside death itself is how a terrifically talented cast you like and admire can only do so much when what they’re given is so odious and painfully unfunny. All of the blame goes to writer-director Dean Craig (2020’s “Love Wedding Repeat”), whose strong actors do not deserve such a terminally strained and cringe-worthy script about a dysfunctional family of greedy assholes. 

After an animated credit sequence that feels refreshingly reminiscent of comedies from the 1980s and ‘90s, the major highlight of “The Estate” is over. From there, we meet sisters Macey (Collette) and Savanna (Faris) as the family cafe they own is going under. It seems their only chance to turn their lives around is when they get the news of their wealthy, dying Aunt Hilda, played by a suitably cantankerous Turner, who should find some loophole in her contract to sue for being such a good sport. When they arrive at Hilda’s estate in New Orleans to become the hopeful beneficiaries, their seemingly all-together but ruthless and manipulative cousin, Beatrice (DeWitt), and her put-upon chef husband (Livingston, DeWitt’s real-life hubby), have already beat them there to collect. Before you know it, smarmy, dimwitted cousin Richard (Duchovny) shows up, too, and he keeps hitting on his own cousin, Macey (an icky running joke that never lands). No level is too low for any of them to stoop in not-so-subtly competing for Hilda’s $20 million, but who will it be? 

Well, it is actually impossible to care which unpleasant family member ends up with the inheritance. In fact, a carbon monoxide leak would have worked as a happy ending or an ironic punchline. “The Estate” would like to be a comedy, specifically a dark comedy with a tinge of absurd farce, perhaps in the vein of “Ruthless People” or any directorial effort by Danny DeVito. Being mean-spirited and sharply written would be one thing, but being mean-spirited and simply not funny spells death. If the unattractive cinematography isn’t hard enough on the eyes, try spending time with these horrible people.

No one is a miracle worker, but Collette emerges with her dignity intact, being able to somewhat bring a voice-of-reason decency to Macey, who still goes along with a lot of her sister's inane plans. Even Duchovny, who has to play a mostly harmless creep, earns a few chuckles with his delivery as the shameless Richard; the character’s preference for being called “Dick” is funny, as is the timing of a line involving a Starbucks run. Faris gets to be brazenly irresponsible, and DeWitt can play a prickly shrew, but they're both stuck in strident, one-note zones, never making sense if they’re supposed to be playing real people with real motivations. 

Isn’t it hilariously shocking when Beatrice asks her husband to have sex with Aunt Hilda? Or when Savanna comes up with the harebrained idea to get their aunt back together with her high school flame, now an alcoholic sex offender? We’ll leave out the part where Macey’s current boyfriend shows up with flowers just as she’s holding an old man’s limp penis hanging out of his fly (please, just don’t ask). Unfortunately, the ensemble of "The Estate" being an embarrassment of riches cannot stand as the mere foundation for comedy when the material is embarrassingly beneath them. 

Grade: D

Signature Films released “The Estate” (91 min.) in select theaters on November 4, 2022.