Clea DuVall’s “The Intervention” Is Fun But Flawed (And Super White)

There’s a particular subgenre of indie film that wears on me: movies about a bunch of beautiful white people who appear to not know a single person of color and who also seem to have never had to think about money. You won’t find an explicit Netflix category for such films, but they’re everywhere. Sometimes, they’re good movies! The Big Chill from 1983, for example, deserves every bit of praise it gets, but it’s also the reason for this subgenre’s longevity. Most movies about a group of white friends reuniting to quarter-life-crisis together are trying to capture the perfect blend of emotions and comedy that The Big Chill epitomizes. In her directorial debut, Clea DuVall attempts the same, and she’s successful in many ways. It’s impossible not to compare The Intervention to The Big Chill, even though DuVall’s film is more concerned with relationships and dating than death. And despite phenomenal performances from its versatile cast, it doesn’t quite stand on its own feet.

The film hinges on a reunion between old friends—and given Cobie Smulders and Melanie Lynskey’s presence, it’s also an unofficial The L Word guest star reunion. Most importantly, The Intervention also reunites DuVall with Natasha Lyonne, and there is no conclusive evidence that this isn’t a But I’m A Cheerleader sequel. Okay, so their names here are Jessie and Sarah, respectively, but maybe Graham and Megan changed their names for a fresh start? Let me have this! In any case, DuVall and Lyonne unsurprisingly have sparkling chemistry together. Even when Jessie and Sarah are fighting, they captivate.

As it turns out, the reunion is just a vehicle for something much more insidious. The friends are all coming together to convince Peter (Vincent Piazza) and Ruby (Smulders) to get a divorce. Lynskey’s Annie is the intervention mastermind only in the sense that she really wants the intervention to happen—ultimately, she’s not so great at the logistics. Ben Schwartz plays Jack, the only friend who’s really resistant to the plan, and Jason Ritter plays Annie’s quiet fiancée who is starkly in denial about his own relationship problems.

Everyone gives incredible performances throughout. DuVall also wrote the script, which largely avoids clichés about dating and relationships but often feels like it’s missing pieces. We don’t really know a lot about these characters and what they do when they’re out in the real world and not trapped in a weekend of catharsis and self-realizations. But in a way, it’s also refreshing to see a movie more concerned with its characters emotional selves than with the fine details of what they do and where they come from. The Intervention is both intimate and a little removed. It’s a close-up of these people’s lives: We can’t exactly see the whole picture, but what we do see beams in high definition.

DuVall’s direction elevates her script. She has a keen sense of her cast’s strengths and pulls incredible work out of all of them. Lynskey dazzles and unsettles in her erratic performance as Annie. The Intervention brims with standout performances, but if there’s one that arguably rises above the rest, it’s Lynskey’s. It’s refreshing to see Schwartz give a more subdued and dramatic performance than he’s typically known for, and Smulders’ full dramatic potential is finally fully realized. And I can’t stress enough just how fantastic Lyonne and DuVall are when playing off one another. DuVall has assembled the kind of team that electrifies in any combination.

It’s a very likable movie about unlikable people. They aren’t so flawed to the point that the movie—which clocks in at the perfect indie length of 90 minutes—is laborious to watch. In fact, it’s a lot of fun, even as it untangles dark truths about all of its characters. There’s something simple but brilliant about the idea of a bunch of fucked up people coming together to try to tell their friends their marriage is fucked up. By the end, it’s clear that everyone could stand to have a bit of an intervention, with the most urgent case being Annie, the one who instigated the marriage intervention in the first place.

Shawkat’s Lola is one of the more obvious The Big Chill parallels. Like Meg Tilly’s Chloe, she’s the young outsider who doesn’t click with the rest of the group. Lola is the only character who’s too boxed into her role in the story. There are a lot of jokes made at her expense because she’s young and a little rowdy. But Shawkat manages to bring depth to the role, especially in her one-on-one scenes with other characters.

There’s a real understanding of relationships and their complications on display throughout. All of the couples have their own set of distinct challenges, and the way those underlying conflicts collide over the course of the film unearths emotional, moving character work. You can fight with your partner all the time but then be on the exact same page while playing charades, and those states don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and it doesn’t mean your relationship is inherently good or inherently bad. It’s just broken. And you could fix it or you could choose not to, but what matters is that it’s your choice. That’s the real lesson The Intervention imparts: You have to deal with your own shit instead of just trying to fix everyone else.

DuVall never quite manages to subvert the genre she’s working with. Sure, it’s wonderful to see two queer women dealing with complex and honest relationship problems that are treated with the same nuance and depth as those of the straight couples on screen. The Intervention acknowledges that all relationships have their problems, because all people are flawed. DuVall has a sharp eye, and her direction is strong throughout. It’s a solid directorial debut, but it doesn’t transcend its parallels to The Big Chill. DuVall milks the dark friendship reunion premise for all its worth, but it’s too familiar to really stick with you. It’s an enjoyable late-summer film, and one that explores relationships and marriage and desire without confining its characters to gendered expectations or generalizations. The Intervention has undeniably intricate, believable characters, but it’s hard to ignore its whiteness when this particular brand of indie film is so saturated with stories about white people. The Intervention doesn’t play around with its familiar format enough to get too excited about it.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 161 articles for us.

8 Comments

    • To be fair, Meg Tilly isn’t European white, either….she’s a multiracial (part Chinese and part First Nations, among other things). So it’s an interesting parallel that the only character of color in both films plays the seductive, much younger girl…

  1. I’ve had crushes on so many of the actresses in this movie, there’s just no way I’m not going to see it (despite what I’m sure are valid criticisms here). Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders, and Clea Duvall? Damn.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.