Inconceivable

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Inconceivable
"Inconceivable is a well made film anchored by strong work from Gershon, who gives her character a lot more depth than is present in the script."

In a system driven by audience demographics, Hollywood characters tend to age as the baby boomers do. 25 years ago we had Single White Female, with Jennifer Jason Leigh's fragile but interesting character unaccountably inveigling herself into the life of Bridget Fonda's socially successful nonentity. Now we have Inconceivable, which presents a very similar (though slightly better motivated) threat to a happily married woman in her early fifties. It's similarly well produced and seems to strike a nerve with audiences in the same way, but there's the same uneasiness at its core. It's the fantasy of the privileged feeling threatened by those who have nothing. It's interesting because it's aberrant - abuse happens so much more easily the other way round - and like Single White Female, it has emerged at a time when America is going through an awkward period of self-examination with respect to its social power dynamics.

The woman in peril here is Angela, played by Gina Gershon. She lives with husband Brian (Nicolas Cage) and daughter Cora (Harlow Bottarini) in a spacious suburban house, and is looking forward to returning to work as a doctor after several years of stay-at-home motherhood. New to her social circles is Katie (Nicky Whelan) who has moved from out of state with small daughter Maddie (Sienna Soho Baker) and hesitantly shared stories of escape from an abusive relationship. Sympathetic to the younger woman's plight, Angela brings her closer and closer into her life, pleased by how quickly their daughters become friends. But subtle little things begin to convince her that something is wrong. Does Katie have a secret agenda? Is she getting a little too close to Cora? And has she set her sights on Brian?

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In case you didn't guess from the not-so-subtle title, there's another aspect to this story. Angela has struggled with fertility. She had Cora with the help of an egg donor. No prizes are available for guessing where this is going. There's the potential here for an interesting exploration of ideas around what constitutes motherhood. The film goes some way towards it as we see Katie concerned about the impact on Cora of Angela's return to work, and questions are asked around the viability and advisibility of attachment parenting. This complexity is discarded towards the end, however, along with ambiguities around Angela's own sanity. The more she finds herself gaslighted, the more confident the audience is allowed to be about her sanity; psychological complexity has to take a back seat as we move into more standard thriller territory.

Whilst the premise may stretch viewer credulity, Inconceivable is a well made film anchored by strong work from Gershon, who gives her character a lot more depth than is present in the script. She's particularly impressive when conveying physical pain, something most actors really can't do realistically. We also see her under the influence of drugs, and here debut feature director Jonathan Baker also shows his skill - though he uses familiar techniques he handles them with unusual confidence and knows when less is more. He also has fun with recreations of key scenes from Single White Female, for instance when he shows us Katie looking through Angela's clothes.

Whelan's role doesn't give her a lot of flexibility. As an icon of healthy fertility she's somewhat miscast - she looks far too thin to stand a good chance of getting pregnant - but she's competent enough with the material she's given. Cage, meanwhile, remains in the background for most of the film, happy to give up space to the female leads - something a lot of male Hollywood stars struggle with. Stripped of the OTT masculinity too often present in roles like this, his character is sympathetic and believable even when placed in opposition to Angela, having to be the adult in the room but quite unaware of what's actually happening around him.

The children's performances are a little twee but not jarringly so. Dunaway, there to provide a voice of experience, is reliable as ever. The film doesn't really deliver anything we haven't seen before, though the cruelty of its ending might raise a few eyebrows, but it's a polished piece of work which tells an old story well.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2017
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Inconceivable packshot
A mother looks to escape her abusive past by moving to a new town where she befriends another mother, who grows suspicious of her.

Director: Jonathan Baker

Writer: Chloe King

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Gina Gershon, Nicky Whelan, Faye Dunaway

Year: 2017

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada

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