Locking a group of people inside a luxurious summer house for a weekend can be a great recipe for drama. No wonder it’s become such a cliché of so much reality television—a shortcut to a battle of egos too marooned to run away from the glass-throwing and shouting matches which are sure to ensue. The Intervention’s premise follows such a formula, though instead of housewives or young Jersey douchebags, writer-director Clea DuVall puts four perfectly decent white couples, all longtime friends, inside a designer mansion in the middle of nowhere for a supposedly relaxing getaway.
It’s not long before we find out that three of the couples have scripted the trip as a trap for stressed-out mother of three Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and her emotionally unavailable husband, Peter (Vincent Piazza), to be told that they should get a divorce. But the flimsy narrative premise serves to expose the widespread unhappiness of everyone’s coupledom, which they may in fact just be projecting onto Ruby and Peter’s marriage. Romantic relationships, the film seems to say, are bound to turn into a cesspool of resentment, anger, and venom—but mostly into the systemic denial that any of that is happening.
The Intervention consists mostly of the replaying of the same dramatic situation ad infinitum: that is, characters trying to break it to Ruby and Peter that they think they should separate, but being unable to do so, mostly because they dread the awkwardness that avowing the getaway’s true reason for being would entail. (Non-)recovering alcoholic Annie (Melanie Lynksey) is mostly entrusted to organize the big reveal and keeps failing to do so because she’s too drunk. The revelation, of course, lacks any gravitas whatsoever, as the film never convinces us that there’s much at stake beyond the reiteration that, apparently, white monogamous people in horrible relationships are some of the most bitter and unhappy folks you will ever meet.
Publicly announcing to friends that one thinks they should no longer be together can hardly compare to big reveals coming out of the getting-together-in-a-mansion trope of films like Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, where we’re affected by a long-buried secret finally made public because we’re as blindsided as many of the characters on screen. DuVall, however, crafts an entire film out of aborted attempts at a revelation that feel completely anodyne. Were this a self-conscious mockery of American puritanism and its obsession with the impossible project of monogamy, watching these tedious characters stress over the silliest of secrets, as they play charades and kickball no less, would be a little less intolerable.