The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Curzon Home Cinema] - GUEST OF HONOUR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Curzon Home Cinema] - GUEST OF HONOUR

guest of honour review
A father struggles to comprehend his imprisoned daughter's acceptance of her fate.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Atom Egoyan

Starring: David Thewlis, Luke Wilson, Laysla De Oliveira, Rossif Sutherland, Arsinee Khanjian, Alexandre Bourgeois

guest of honour poster

With films like The Adjuster, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter and Felicia's Journey, Canada's Atom Egoyan was one of the most fêted filmmakers of the 1990s, but the last couple of decades have seen him fade into something dangerously close to journeyman obscurity. While its refusal to cut into the meat of its central premise and let its themes bleed out is frustrating, Guest of Honour represents a return to form for Egoyan while reaffirming leading man David Thewlis as one of the most under-rated actors of his generation.

guest of honour review

The structure of Guest of Honour owes much to classic Hollywood melodrama, and it plays like a less affected, more tight-lipped version of the kind of movie you might expect from Todd Haynes or Pedro Almodovar. Like so many melodramas, it tells its story through the framing device of a central figure narrating their tale to an eager listener. Twenty-something former music teacher Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) meets with Father Greg (Luke Wilson), the priest in charge of her late father Jim's funeral service. As Jim (Thewlis) wasn't a churchgoer, Father Greg asks for some details of his life to incorporate into a eulogy, which prompts Veronica to detail her often unreliable memories of her father.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Only the Animals ]

It emerges that Veronica has only recently been released from prison, and through flashbacks we witness the events that lead to her incarceration, and the visits from her father, increasingly baffled at his daughter's refusal to cooperate with his attempts to have her proven innocent and released. Veronica is jailed for enjoying inappropriate relationships with a pair of her underage male pupils, but the reality is far more complicated. While she may indeed be innocent of such a charge, Veronica is convinced that she belongs in jail as punishment for an earlier indiscretion, believing herself responsible for the suicide of a boyfriend while she was a teenager.

guest of honour review

If viewed solely as a melodrama, Guest of Honour proves frustrating in its structure. Its plot twists are revealed a little too early, leaving the narrative to wander around without much purpose in its second half. Its refusal to explore Veronica's psyche also feels like a missed opportunity. We're left to take her word for it that she was indeed responsible for her boyfriend ending his life, as the film never clarifies this point one way or the other. Other questions raised are given definitive answers, so it's odd that this one important element is treated so ambiguously.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - The Uncertain Kingdom ]

Egoyan's film is more intriguing if viewed as an exploration of how memories can shape our lives, regardless of whether they happen to be true or false. Veronica is sure that she remembers her father having an affair with her piano instructor when she was a child, but Jim vehemently denies such an accusation, even providing evidence that seems to back up his claims of innocence. But Veronica has lived with the memory for so long that she's reached a point where she's unwilling to let it go. Similarly, Jim prefers to view his daughter as the innocent little girl she once was, conveniently ignoring potentially damning evidence to the contrary, devoting himself to the upkeep of the pet rabbit he gifted Veronica in earlier, less troubled times.

guest of honour review

Guest of Honour's greatest strength lies in the casting of Thewlis, whose performance keeps us enraptured in spite of the film's narrative issues. His frustrations as a man who has lost his daughter through what may not be any fault of his own are palpable. As the film goes on, Jim's stiff upper English lip begins to increasingly tremble, leading to a public breakdown that's distinctly uncomfortable to witness. Jim is a public food health inspector, and much of the film is spent following him as he visits various establishments, inspecting kitchens and terrifying owners, whose livelihoods he holds in his hands. By the end of the film you feel like you've seen the inside of every restaurant in Toronto, but if Guest of Honour should spawn a spin-off TV series in which Thewlis visits a new eatery every week, I'll certainly be down to watch it. He really is that captivating.

Guest of Honour is on Curzon Home Cinema from June 5th.

2020 movie reviews