When the government can take your land without good reason
‘Little Pink House’ presents the narrative surrounding the landmark Supreme Court eminent domain legal case
Little Pink House
Directed by Courtney Moorehead Balaker
Screenplay by Courtney Moorehead Balaker
Starring Catherine Keener, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Callum Keith Rennie
In the attempt to revitalize New London, Connecticut’s depressed economy, the state’s politically ambitious governor and lackies have convinced Pfizer to plan a redevelopment of the town’s blue-collar neighborhood. When soft-spoken resident Susette Kelo (Catherine Keener) and her fellow neighbors refuse to leave their homes, the governor invokes eminent domain to acquire the homes by legal force. Unwilling to give up her home, Kelo decides to take legal action, employing the help of a pro-bono law firm. Ultimately the case winds up in the hands of the Supreme Court who decisively side with the State of Connecticut and uphold their right to eminent domain.
While Little Pink House makes an admirable attempt at conveying the complexities of the real-life case in an entertaining and palatable form, the film falls short on both ends. Visually, the film lacks any luster, with repetitive and dull images filling one scene to the next. The only interesting imagery is perhaps of the pink house itself. Bizarre and choppy cuts continually remove the audience from the viewing experience, and tonal dissonance pervades. While Keener gives a strong performance as Kelo, there is only so much you can do with an undeveloped character. Kelo’s backstory is brief and disjointed, and the audience only glancingly sees her romance with her new partner (Callum Rennie). With no emotional connection for the viewer to latch onto, Kelo’s most critical arguments for saving her home ring hollow. The movie calls for our sympathy, but doesn’t convince us to give it.
To Balaker’s credit, the film breaks down the years-long journey from local New London court to Supreme Court in such a way that the technicalities of the legal proceedings don’t weigh on the narrative itself. Little Pink House thankfully shows more as a drama than as a documentary — though, a very one-sided documentary. With no room for dissenting opinion, Little Pink House is an hour and a half long attack on eminent domain without pausing for considering its defense. Its total resolution to emotionally discrediting eminent domain leaves no doubt on the obvious message of the film, but for the impartial viewer can at times be frustrating. Sometimes the strongest arguments address the perceived benefits of the opposing side. Perhaps Balaker should have taken some inspiration from the lawyers she studied and directed for the film.
Little Pink House is opening May 4 at Landmark Theatres.