For a film that has such little action and movement, Helena from the Wedding is surprisingly captivating and in the most subtle of ways. Director Joseph Infantolino leverages all the drama of an extended stare and implications of the classic, troubled exchange between couples: “You OK? I’m fine.” Surrounding three-and-half couples that spend a New Years Eve in a snowy cabin, Helena packs an impressive spectrum of relationship conditions — newly weds, divorce, pregnancy, cheating, spousal inequality, wandering eyes — into the small vacation home. With the cold backdrop and dreary domestic scenarios, Helena may not be a particularly bright yarn, but it’s intensely genuine and emotionally vibrant.
Helena‘s appeal is due in no small part to the wonderful cast. Lee Tergesen (TV series “Oz“, “Generation Kill“) leads as Alex, a new husband and failed playwright. Despite recent personal setbacks, Alex, carries on playing host to his friends for NYE. Avoiding much discussion of his professional life and navigating the twitchy waters of his new marriage to Alice (the rising Melanie Lynskey from Up in the Air), Alex is wound pretty tight through much of the film, especially when Helena arrives. A back story between Helena and Alex isn’t fully explored, but it’s manifestly based around Alex’s attraction to her. Helena is a model with the frustrating ability to flirt without real intention; she stirs up men through simple cordiality, especially Alex and the newly single Nick (Paul Fitzgerald).
What’s most engaging about Helena is Infantolino’s crafting of rich tension through inaction. Alex peeks at Helena around corners and over newspapers; Alice senses something is amiss, but doesn’t confront him; Most think Lynn’s a bitch (the lovely Jessica Hect) and abusive to Don (Dominic Fumusa) but no one will say anything; And many come to believe Steven (Corey Stoll) is cheating on his pregnant wife. The film brings to light these details through studied conversations and character interactions, all of which barely rise above the fury of a single broken glass. Some may find the heavy, pent up energy frustrating, while others (like me) find it a veritable emotional Snuggie.
Most will see some of themselves or their friends in Helena‘s details. The film is unexpectedly authentic, and as quietly dramatic as only real life can be.