Our New Year’s Gift to You: Bri LaFond‘s hilarious live blog of her experience re-watching the extremely melodramatic House of Sand and Fog.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
I’ve been avoiding re-watching this movie for nearly ten years.
I wasn’t avoiding the movie because I thought it was bad or anything; I’ve been avoiding 2003’s House of Sand and Fog primarily because it made me cry like a freaking baby when I first saw it in theaters.
I had just moved to Santa Barbara to attend college, and I was feeling a little awkward since I was a mid-year transfer and everyone had already had a quarter’s worth of school to get to know one another. I was sitting in one of my first classes—a huge lecture course on Dante’sInferno—when this guy randomly turned to me and introduced himself. JR was a mid-year transfer, too, but instead of wallowing in awkwardness like myself, he was making up for lost time. We decided to go see a movie together and, for one reason or another, we pickedHouse of Sand and Fog.
I can count on one hand the number of movies that have made me downright sob in the theater—most recently Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013) and most vehementlyChildren of Men (2006) (a movie I’m still avoiding)—and here I was, watching a movie with someone I’d just met and bawling my eyes out.
Luckily, JR is a bit of a crier, too.
JR ended up being one of my closest friends in college, and it all begin with a trial by fire (crafted by Dante) quickly followed by water torture (the two of us sobbing in a mostly empty theater together).
Re-watching House of Sand and Fog, I must admit that I’m a little embarrassed by 20-year-old me’s reaction. In my nearly 30-year-old opinion, this is not a good movie. This is a trite melodrama, and though there is some fine acting by Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, if you think about the plot for one minute, the entire thing falls apart. This is the story of a recovering alcoholic (Connelly) who loses her house due to an error on the part of the county. A hard-working Iranian immigrant (Kingsley) uses all of his savings to buy the house from the county as an investment property. The family comes into conflict with the woman trying to reclaim her house with disastrous results.
Even if one considers this less of a plot-driven story and more of a character study, there’s not enough consistency in the characterization for it to be effective on that level. Characters seem to act in order to make the plot move forward as opposed to their actions arising naturally. For example, there’s a second act suicide attempt by Connelly’s character that comes out of nowhere other than the need to get her back into proximity with Kingsley’s character.
I can’t say I’d recommend this movie to anyone, though it’s not terrible per se. It’s just not very good. Since this re-view turned into such a revision of the original film for me, I’m curious to see how I’ll react to some of those other flicks that made me weep like a child… But I’m not touching those for at least another two (Children of Men) to ten (12 Years a Slave) years.
[Editor’s note: The Patented Bri Lafond Live Microblog of Awesome]
-We open with the aftermath: Connelly stands in the rain smoking a cigarette and looking down at flashing police lights. “Is this your house?” an officer asks. This is the central question of the movie… Symbolism!
-We cut to Nadi (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and some children laughing and dancing on the beach as Behrani (Ben Kingsley) directs workers to cut down the trees in front of his home: “To reach infinity with our eyes.” This turns into the speech Behrani gives at his daughter’s wedding. (Aside: the husband is ROUGH looking.)
-This whole movie is kind of weird to think about in a post-Shahs of Sunset world since everyone accuses the Iranian Behranis to be money-grubbing social climbers. They totes aren’t, by the by… the Shahs of Sunset on the other hand…
-Some people in the wedding party argue about where Behrani works. How odd and completely out of nowhere…. Except then we cut to him working as a construction worker on the side of a road in San Francisco. Also, conveniently, every possible minority is represented in the back of the construction truck: an Asian man eating something with chopsticks, a Latino man eating a burrito. This is not stereotypical AT ALL.
-Cut to recovering alcoholic in the midst of deep depression, Kathy (Jennifer Connelly). It’s hard to buy Jennifer Connelly as a recovering alcoholic. She’s just too… put together. I mean, someone so caught up in the depths of depression that they can barely get out of bed would not have such pristine eyebrows.
-Suddenly everyone busts in to Kathy’s house to put up eviction notices! Immediately the sheriff (Ron Eldard) starts making eyes at Connelly. Evictions are the best place to pick up chicks, man.
-Also immediately the sheriff is doing her favors! “Some movers owe me a favor… Go down to Safeway and get me some boxes: let’s help this lady move.”
-Meanwhile: a doorman gives Behrani sass for coming into his establishment looking all working class. Turns out, he cleans up in a public bathroom every day before going home in order to hide his real job from his family.
-Cut to Behrani’s second job as an overnight gas station clerk. He keeps careful handwritten financial records… but what is he saving up for? Could it be… a tasteful seaside bungalow that has recently been put on the auction block by the city?
-“Today God has kissed our eyes… I today have purchased us another bungalow.” And the wife’s pissed? Because she “didn’t come to America to live like an Arab”? Umm… What? I’m pretty sure that’s racist.
-Some shit gets smashed and things are settled: These folks are moving!
-Kathy’s legal aid lawyer (Frances Fisher) informs Kathy of the facts: She was evicted over $500 in unpaid “business taxes” despite the fact that she never owned a business… But the county has already sold the house, making things complicated… But Kathy needs it back before her aunt visits so she doesn’t look bad in front of her family… Because that’s clearly priority number one.
-And now Sheriff Stalkermuch shows up at Kathy’s storage unit in the middle of the night while Kathy is there looking at family photos. That’s… odd. And convenient. How closely is he watching her that he knew she’d be at the storage unit?
-And Sheriff Creeper has a wife and kids, too? Umm…
-Okay: I’ll buy that a dude sees movie star Jennifer Connelly and starts to obsess over her… But I don’t buy that a dude would obsess over Kathy the depressed recovering alcoholic who answers the door in a T-shirt and robe.
-And now Kathy gets kicked out of her motel for lack of funds. Here’s the thing: We’ve established that Kathy has a mother who is concerned about her, an aunt who is coming to check on her, and a brother who co-owns the house. On top of that, she has a lawyer (albeit legal aid) who knows how bad the county fucked up. This is not a woman without resources, so it seems downright ridiculous that Kathy ends up sleeping in her car and, frankly, it’s kind of hard to feel sorry for her. The situation is fucked up, yes, but Kathy makes it worse for herself and everyone involved. If she just waited for the lawyers to take care of things, she’d get her house back plus a settlement, most likely.
-Kathy spends the night in her car in front of her old house, then goes and screams at some dudes trying to build a terrace on the house. She ends up stepping on some nails barefoot, then has to be saved by Nadi and her son, Esmail.
-Kathy goes to see her lawyer and tries to start shit about the construction. The lawyer confirms that Kathy shouldn’t be going over to the house and making more trouble for everyone. Kathy drops the “Middle Eastern” card to the lawyer. Here we go…
-The lawyer effs things up further, though, by sending a letter directly to Behrani by courier. Umm… He has done nothing wrong. It’s the county that has fucked up, so why are you bothering to send a letter to Behrani?
-And the lawyer is getting all huffy with Behrani about how he shouldn’t be trying to cut a profit on the house. Again: HE HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG. The obvious solution here is for these folks to get together and sue every-freaking-body. This is a payday, yo.
-Kathy decides to hit up Sheriff Inappropriate for…?
-Why did Kathy’s husband leave her? Because he didn’t want kids. This gets Sheriff Spermdonor all extra hot and bothered.
-Then this fool takes Kathy out to a fancy dinner and drinks in front of her the whole time… And immediately confesses that he planted heroin on a dude who beat up his wife. This makes him a good guy? I guess?
-Aaaaaaand now she’s drinking wine. Kathy, girl… I just can’t with this… Also: the wine causes her to immediately start playing footsie with the dude under the table. Because that’s how that works.
-Holy crap! Is that the dude from Mathnet as the process server guy?! It totes is! Joe Howard!
-Now Sheriff Modelhusbandandfather talks about how he “married his best friend” and is only with her “for the kids.” What a nice guy. He totally deserves to bang Kathy in a seedy motel intercut with scenes of Behrani banging his wife.
-“Things are finally in motion. I’m finally going to get it over with.” Dude has decided to throw away his marriage—and possibly career—over one night with Kathy. Super classy.
-This is such bullshit: the lawyer says everything is Behrani’s fault and because he won’t play ball.
-And now Kathy’s all: “You stole this house from me, you son of a bitch! This is a stolen house!” He leads her to her car by her arm and ends up leaving a small bruise on her arm.
-Sheriff DeadbeatDad moves into the motel with Kathy. Instead of dealing with his own shit, he immediately obsesses over Kathy’s bruise.
-Sheriff Professionalism decides to go hassle Behrani and his family since they’re “foreigners” who “don’t know their way around.”
-“The only one who wants trouble around here is you. I have friends in immigration.” Sheriff Racism is totes over-doing this harassment thing.
-Sheriff Intimidation’s visit leads to a family fight amongst the Behranis. Behrani ends up pimp-slapping Nadi. Frankly, I feel like the reactions among the Behranis aren’t realistically played. They go from zero to eleven for no real reason beyond maybe trying to make them look somewhat equally at fault in the conflict. But I still don’t buy it: This is Kathy’s shit show with Sheriff Boner working as a multiplying factor.
-Sheriff ClassAct’s wife shows up with the kids to stage a parking lot drama fest. She’s a class act, too.
-And Behrani is able to identify Sheriff Douchecanoe, so guess who’s in trouble?
-While Sheriff Jerkcheese is off getting in trouble, Kathy has the goddamn nerve to show up at the house to feed Nadi her sob story. I give zero fucks when Behrani tosses her ass in her car.
-Kathy finally calls her brother for help, but instead of, you know, telling him what’s up, she pitches a shit fit and runs off to buy liquor, gas, and matches. When she discovers that Sheriff Employee-of-the-Year has left his gun in her trunk, however, she gets a new shitty idea.
-Bitch straight up tries to blow her head off in the driveway at the house! *insert Ron Burgundy “Well, that escalated quickly” gif here* But it’s okay: Sheriff Peabrain at least managed to leave the gun unloaded.
-So Behrani goes and carries this broad into HIS HOUSE and comforts her. Straight ridonk. And Nadi runs this bitch a warm bath and serves her tea! That shit cray.
-AND AFTER ALL THAT, homegirl steals pills from the medicine cabinet to try and OD in the bathtub. This chick, man…
-And now Sheriff Wherethehellhaveyoubeen shows up at the house to start some more shit. Straight up BREAKS IN and trains a loaded gun on people. And won’t believe anything they say. What the hell does he think happened? This dude is not among the best and brightest, that’s for sure.
-Aaaaaand hostage situation. Sheriff Genius locks the Behranis in the bathroom and tells them to rest since they’re selling the house back to the county in the morning. I would once again like to point out that this is all goddamn Kathy’s fault. They could all be rolling in dough if they’d just kicked back and sued the county.
-I was definitely not this frustrated with the movie the first time I watched it, but goddamn, I can hardly stand this mess.
-So Behrani decides to negotiate and with a plan that makes, like, zero sense. They agree to go to the county government and sign the house back to Kathy, then give her the money he gets back from the county, then she’ll sign the house back over to him. -Esmail grabs the gun from Sheriff Dumbass when he stops to talk shit, so, of course, poor Esmail gets shot and Behrani gets tossed in the back of a squad car.
-The final twenty minutes of the movie are what tore me up the first time I watched this movie. Essentially, Behrani’s life and family have been destroyed. After finally being released by the police, Behrani runs to the hospital and prays to Allah for the life of his son… To no avail. Even this time around, I admit, I got a little teary-eyed during these scenes. Despite the fact that the movie itself makes no sense, Kingsley is a fine enough actor to make these scenes effective.
-Sheriff Incarcerated uses his one phone call to listen to a now-ironic family voicemail greeting. So glad he’s out of the movie. Worst. Character. EVER.
-This is the shit that REALLY did me in: Behrani serves Nadi overdose tea so that she never has to learn about her son’s death (though the look in her eyes suggests that she suspects). Instead of drinking some himself, Behrani puts on his old military uniform, wraps a plastic dry cleaning bag around his head, and duct tapes it into place. Uncle Sam, goddamn: talk about waterworks.
-And goddamn Kathy… Turning in circles on the beach, chilling with the seagulls. (There’s this whole throughline of bird symbolism in the movie: most prevalently an Iranian proverb about a wounded bird getting trapped in the house being an angel that has come to test the inhabitants’ faith and kindness.)
-Kingsley makes suffocating to death look very classy and almost painless, I’ll give him that.
-And this ending… Man, oh man, this ending. It pissed me off then and it pisses me off now: Kathy comes home to find the Behranis dead in bed together. After attempting CPR on Behrani for, like, five seconds, she calls in the cops. We come back to the beginning of the movie and the cop asks: “Is this your house?” AND THIS BITCH REPLIES: “No, it’s not my house.” I mean, on some level, I get it: This house was really the Behranis in that they lived and died here, but the ENTIRE PROCEEDING TWO HOURS is about Kathy ruining these people’s lives to get this house back. To say, flippantly, with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, that the house isn’t hers feels like the Behranis died for nothing.