“Anderson Makes a ‘House’ Call”
by Scott Mantz

“The House of Mirth”
Gillian Anderson,
Eric Stoltz
Directed by Terence Davies

“What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” Gillian Anderson and Eric Stoltz in “The House of Mirth”

As hard as it is for small screen actors to find big screen success, it’s even harder if they’re coming from a science fiction series. For example, while “Star Trek” continues to be enormously popular, many of the actors associated with it have seen their acting careers whither away faster than a phaser on overload.

That’s a fate that must weigh heavily on the minds of “X-Files” stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. While Duchovny has already started the process of easing himself out of the show, maybe the time has come for Anderson to do the same. Her X-ceptional performance in “The House of Mirth” is so radiant, so powerful, and so utterly riveting, that she not only leaves her X-character Dana Scully X-iled to Area 51, but she may even get a bona-fide Oscar nomination to boot. (Trust me–she’s that good!)

Based on Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel of the same name, “The House of Mirth” tells the tragic story of Lily Bart (Gillian Anderson), a 29-year-old socialite-wannabe looking for love among New York’s crusty, stuffy, and snobby upper class. Despite being courted by a worthy, but not quite filthy rich pursuer (Eric Stoltz), Lily believes that her fate lies in the hands of someone with more money. The problem is that she’s not emotionally or physically attracted to anyone else, and when she breaks the rules of this Edwardian game of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless,” she finds herself up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Though the film may take place almost 100 years ago, “The House of Mirth” could easily have taken place today. At almost 30, Lily believes that she is near the expiration date for what makes her attractive to another man. Everybody can relate to Lily’s desire to marry into a lot of money (especially in this crazy town!), but her stubborn behavior and inability to compromise forces her into a downward spiral from which she tragically cannot recover.

If you look back over the course of “The X-Files,” you’ll notice that Anderson’s acting abilities have improved to such a degree that she actually began to overshadow the presence of her co-star, David Duchovny. That’s what makes her such a revelation in “The House of Mirth.” Think of “The X-Files” as the desert that she’s been wandering in for the last 8 years. “The House of Mirth” is her oasis. As a result, she goes for broke and delivers a convincing and emotional performance that is sure to get her the proper recognition (and better movie roles) when the time is right. Though her character’s fate may be devastating (and rather depressing) to behold, she’s so delicate, impressive, and beautiful that you can’t help but stand up and take notice.

Though Anderson commands the film and appears in every scene, she is complimented by a stellar supporting cast. Dan Aykroyd plays a sleazy and intimidating socialite who turns against Anderson when she refuses to be his mistress, while Eric Stoltz plays her helpless knight in shining armor who can only stand by and watch her gradual descent into poverty. Laura Linney, fresh off her own masterful performance in “You Can Count on Me,” plays Anderson’s so-called “friend” with a catty competitive streak, while Anthony LaPaglia comes through as having more honor than anyone else in this not-so-in crowd.

We all find ourselves in a situation where we try to fit in with the wrong people, even though we may not realize it at the time. Lily is so driven by money and security that she cannot see that she’s out of her league. Actually, if you think about it, everyone else is out of her league. Despite some bad judgment, she didn’t sell herself out or compromise her soul for money. Maybe it’s time for Anderson to do the same so she can move on to bigger and better screens.