Playing in the U.S. Dramatic competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 98 minutes. No more festival screenings scheduled.
As suburban supermom meltdowns go, the one depicted in writer-director Debra Eisenstadt’s “Imaginary Order” goes deep, thanks to some smart and scary twists and a compelling performance by Wendi McLendon-Covey.
The mom from “The Goldbergs” plays Cathy, who pours a lot of her creativity into helping her middle-school daughter, Tara (Kate Alberts), whether it’s the cake-decorating contest or attending her dance-team performances. She also dutifully cat-sits while her widowed sister Gail (Catherine Curtin) goes on a six-week retreat, and maintains a perfect home for her husband, Matthew (Steve Little).
It’s while cat-sitting that things start to unravel. The cat dislikes her, and claws her bloodily. Gail’s neighbor, Gemma Jean (Christine Woods), presents her the temptations of midday bloody Marys, cigarettes and painkillers. Gemma Jean’s whole family soon becomes a problem for Cathy — first when she has a quick sexual encounter with Gemma Jean’s semi-estranged husband Paul (Graham Sibley), and later when their son Xander (Max Burkholder) becomes infatuated with her.
Eisenstadt’s script provides a wry commentary on suburban perfectionism, of the parents’ committees whose members try to one-up each other in their organizational skills. And she captures the tiny details of that life, of shiny SUVs and passive-aggressive volunteerism, with a sharp eye. The ending is a bit ragged, but the journey to it is darkly funny.
McLendon-Covey joins the ranks of comic actors at Sundance revealing added dramatic depth. The precision with which she calibrates Cathy’s slow spiral of self-destruction is a wonder to behold, and makes “Imaginary Order” a fascinating tale of a woman out of control.