Courtney Moorehead Balaker’s Little Pink House is mostly a sobering dramatization of a true and controversial story in recent Connecticut history. People living in the Fort Trumbull area of New London find themselves forced out of their homes through eminent domain after Pfizer announces plans for a new plant and high-end apartment complexes in the town. Reluctantly rallying the citizens and spearheading an opposition to the pharmaceutical company is Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener), a modest EMT whose pink home stands in the way of construction. The film begins as a coolly efficient political procedural, thoroughly tracing the imbroglio between Pfizer’s operation and the Connecticut government through fly-on-the-wall dramatizations of meetings and negotiations that never serve New London’s best interests.
In its fixation on how outside political machinations affect the social order of a specific place, Little Pink House brings to mind the films of John Sayles. And like Sayles, Balaker employs multiple perspectives to show the reach of Pfizer’s shameless land-grabbing. In the film’s first half, Balaker breezily cuts between the planning stages of Pfizer’s urban redevelopment in New London and the lives of the town’s unsuspecting citizens. And the filmmaker summons a profound sense of irony from the way Susette, a recent transplant to New London, adjusts to her new life in town while forces beyond her control actively try to tear that life down. Scenes of protracted conversations where every word has a political dimension exude a documentary-like sense of immediacy, a feeling that’s bolstered by the naturalistic performances from Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays Charlotte Wells, the cunning intermediary between the Connecticut government and Pfizer.
But once Susette’s next-door neighbor’s house is destroyed, the film’s tone changes on a dime. This particular scene, though viscerally effective, practically lands in the realm of Kabuki theater when Susette hysterically tries to sweep debris from her front steps and kicks up a swirl of dust in the process. And from here on out, Little Pink House begins to play like an overly melodramatic highlight reel of legal wins and losses. As New London takes action against Pfizer, Balaker forgoes showing the various processes involved in such a case and only presents the end result of major events, too often leaning on archival news footage to relay expositional information.
By this point, too, the film is no longer an ensemble, as it becomes almost stubbornly focused on Susette and how the debacle of Pfizer’s project affects her personal life. And this jarring shift in perspective comes to feel especially disappointing by the end, when Little Pink House describes in an epilogue how Charlotte is now fighting against what she once stood for. Strangely, Charlotte exits the film in its last third without ever giving any sign that she’s on the brink of changing sides. Once so sensitive to process, the film ends with a conclusion that completes Balaker’s startling shift in the opposite direction by failing to ruminate on the minutiae that informs such a decision.