The House of Yes & Love and Death on Long Island

by KE Monahan Huntley

The House of Yes and Love and Death on Long Island are two recent indie presentations that have more than 90210 cast members in common. Without getting too caught up in histrionics and endless details that often attend melodrama, each film offers the same premise--that mad love exists. Each film holds the same expectation as well--that the viewer will not look askance at the "all's fair in love and war" tactics, but will instead nod their head in affirmation that the heart does what it damn well pleases.

For recent widower and recluse, Giles De'ath (John Hurt), the main character in Love and Death on Long Island, written and directed by Richard Kwientniowski, the story begins as he ventures into the present day (objective story concern)--after accepting (story driver-decision; os solution) an invitation to be interviewed on the "wireless." When asked if he uses a word processor for his novels, he is bemused--he tartly replies he is a writer, he does not "process words." It is established here that the notable British author is completely out of touch with the 20th century (os domain-universe), illustrated again as the camera focuses on him ruefully looking through the front door mail slot at forgotten house keys--his gaze taking in an archaic life.

As Giles is locked out and must wait before his niece is available to give him the extra set of keys, he decides to go to the cinema. He mistakenly walks into a matinee of Hotpants College II, instead of the latest E. M. Forster adaptation. Rising to leave (mc symptom-reaction), he is struck by the beauty of its dreamboat star, influence character Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestly), a screen heartthrob he will later compare to a painting of the writer Chatterton hanging in the Tate Gallery. At this point, emphasis in the os throughline is placed upon the thematic conflict of attraction vs. repulsion--the clash of obsolescence and technology (os benchmark-progress), high art and popular culture.

Giddy Giles begins the quest that his own fictitious characters engage in (mc domain-physics), to learn (mc concern) all about the object of his desire. Hampered by the ministrations of his nosy parker housekeeper, and well- intentioned literary agent (mc problem-protection), he restricts their possible interference (mc approach-do-er) of his foray into "finding beauty where no-one (at least in his milieu) seems to look"--fan magazines, situation comedy, B grade movies. While mooning over Ronnie, Giles comes to terms with the present (outcome-success). He is compelled to purchase and master the video player and "goggle box," open an account at the video store (to rent the Ronnie film festival, Tex Mex and Skid Marks), hook up an answering machine to take messages while cutting and pasting his Ronnie collage, and finally, jetting to Long Island (mc response of proaction), where he will strategize (mc thematic issue) how to meet the actor.

Giles holes up in the roadside motel of Ronnie's town, run by yet another interfering and overprotective landlady. Inside he scratches out tactics to determine his film idol's whereabouts: "1. Hire detective 2. Bribe postman" (male mental sex), but it is his painstaking investigation (relationship story catalyst) that pays off when he ascertains Ronnie's exact location and trumps up a relationship with the lovely Audrey, Ronnie's fiancee (os dividend-learning). Like an infatuated schoolgirl, Giles sits anxiously by the telephone for hours (rs inhibitor-need), until the beautiful couple rings up with a dinner invitation.

Ronnie represents the emotional manipulation (ic domain-psychology) of mass media, yet he repudiates (ic problem-non-acceptance) his teen beat status--despite his photogenic "files of smiles" he wants to be a serious actor (ic benchmark). His initial appraisal (rs thematic issue) of the old gentleman is based on Giles' fabrication and the teen's own conviction that "British stuff is cool," yet this first impression (appraisal) is his critical flaw. Giles flatters the boy with what he needs (oc thematic issue) to hear--he has "the look of a young Olivier" and the potential (rs story problem) for Shakespeare, yet Audrey astutely understands "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" and arranges (ic unique ability-permission) to effectively remove Ronnie from Giles' advances (mc growth-stop).

Giles reacts (rs story symptom) to Ronnie's impending departure by confessing (rs direction-proaction) his desperate love to the boy in the local hamburger dive. That each has a different point of view (rs story domain-mind) is underscored as they face each other from across the vinyl booth. It is clear Giles is as steadfast (mc resolve) in his disdain for the popular arts as he is in his devotion to Ronnie, contemptuously dismissing Ronnie's adolescent audience and American "contacts" and entreating the actor to fall in with a traditional European relationship of mentor and student--on the order of Rimbaud and Verlaine. Rattled, Ronnie refuses to consider the offer (os consequence-conscious), and the relationship, heretofore certain (rs story solution) to flourish--is ended.

In the erstwhile author's world, the quest is not a success without a sacrifice. Giles faxes a love letter to Ronnie that includes a revised scene for Hot pants College III. On the way to the airport he inquires of the cabby if faxes can be retrieved. Shaking his head no, the cab driver asks Giles if he would like to return to the motel anyway. Giles knows there is no turning back (optionlock). With a smile (judgment-good), he slips on the new wave sunglasses--a gift from Ronnie--and waves the driver to continue on (mc solution-inaction). Ronnie's change is depicted on-screen in his new film as he delivers Giles' eulogy to his character's mother--an indication he will now aspire to something more than performing for the "rabble in the pit."

In The House of Yes, written and directed by Mark Waters, the objective story concern is how the memory of the day JFK died--the day Daddy tried to leave--has impacted the family: "Everybody remembers that day. Exactly what they were doing." The os goal, in particular, is the memory twins (relationship story domain-universe) Jackie-O (Parker Posey), and Marty (Josh Hamilton), share of their illicit affair--the day they attended an Ides of March party--Jackie-O costumed as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy pirouetting ". . . in a pink Chanel suit and pillbox hat and blood on my dress. Well, ketchup actually and other stuff too, like macaroni kind of glued on like brains. It was more tasteful than it sounds."

Jackie-O is another main character zealous (do-er) in her efforts (mc domain-physics) to fulfill desires (mc problem). When influence character Marty, comes home to Washington D.C. Thanksgiving 1983--"20 years after the Kennedy assassination"--and announces (story driver-action) his engagement to Lesly (Tori Spelling), he has sealed his fate (rs issue). The circumstances (rs domain-universe) of the twins' relationship are such that any plan for a normal life Marty attempts to implement (ic concern-conceptualizing) is anarchy (rs problem-chaos)--marriage is an act the unhinged Jackie-O will steadfastly (mc resolve) not allow.

Mama (Genevieve Bujold), very French Gothic, demands a private word with her son:


You, a fiancee here, why?


I love her and I'm just trying to follow procedure (oc focus-order).


Marty, your sister has been out of the hospital less than six months. Last week she nearly lost it because the seltzer water was flat and you bring a woman home! Not just a woman, a fiancee! An anti-Jackie! Are you trying to push your sister over the edge?




Just what, then, are you trying to do?


Be normal.

Family secrets and lies (os thematic counterpoint-falsehood), exposed or withheld, are the weapons used against artless Lesly--the fiancee who smells like powdered sugar. The family knows (os symptom) Marty is making a mistake. Marty had loved a lizard, Jackie-O flushed it down the toilet. Lesly's perception (os problem) of Marty's glamorous twin is mistaken--she calls Jackie-O spoiled to which Jackie-O replies--"Oh please. If people start telling the truth (os thematic issue) around here, I'm going to bed." What Lesly doesn't consider (os benchmark-conscious), until almost too late, is that Jackie-O is insane (os 2012solution-actuality) and extravagantly dangerous.

An unexpected hurricane extinguishes the electrical power and all but Marty and Jackie-O retire for the evening. By candlelight, the twins play their favorite game, the reenactment of Jack Kennedy's assassination. This leads to a reenactment of their own affaire d' amour, unaware Lesly is watching. Crushed, Lesly allows the twins' younger brother, Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), to make love to her, unaware Mama is watching. Confronting the naïf with what she knows (os symptom)--"A mother doesn't spy, a mother pays attention!"-- Mama thinks (os response) Lesly will now leave--alone. Instead, Lesly persuades Marty to believe the man she fell in love with is the man he truly is (ic thematic issue of state of being), not the image he has of himself (ic thematic counterpoint-sense of self). She implores Marty to return with her to New York.

Destiny (rs catalyst), however, prevails. Jackie-O cajoles him into one more dead Kennedy charade, with the promise he may leave afterward. He foolishly does not suspect (ic critical flaw) she may fire the pistol they have used to pretend, despite the fact Jackie-O has shot him in the past (rs concern). Marty is gunned down, and buried in the back yard next to his father--the romantic memory of gallant men-Jack, Daddy, and Marty, preserved intact (outcome-success). In voice-over, Jackie-O reassures us: "Don't worry about Marty. A close family like ours has to stick together. We cleared out a nice place for him out back, next to Daddy so he would stay right here with me, where he belongs (story judgment-good).

Love and Death on Long Island and The House of Yes approach obsessive, irrational love with humor and compassion for its main characters, and a distant nod to their influence characters. Emphasis in each is placed upon the relationship story--almost to the exclusion of the objective story throughline--much like lovers heedless to the world around them.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

Prev Articles Home Next

Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now