The House of the Spirits

Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close

Directed by Bille August
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
April 1, 1994

It's always painful when a brilliant book becomes a bust of a movie. Consider the fate of the first novel by journalist Isabel Allende – a relative of the Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was killed in a coup in 1973. Allende's saga, stretching from the 1920s to the 1970s, used a tale of sorrow, blood and love in Latin America to strike a universal chord. The 1985 book demanded major talents to bring it to the screen. And it got them. Danish director-writer Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror) assembled a cast headed by Britain's Jeremy Irons and Vanessa Redgrave, America's Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Winona Ryder, Germany's Armin Mueller-Stahl and Spain's Antonio Banderas. It sounds formidable until you realize that this polyglot acting troupe is meant to share national and family ties.

Whoops. Irons is hardly ideal casting as the macho, rapacious patriarch Esteban Trueba. Even in thick pancake makeup (and a thicker accent), he looks better suited for high tea than for pillaging governments and peasant girls. Streep also fights a losing battle. As Trueba's ethereal wife, Clara, possessed of the power to see her family's future, she seems gripped less by spirits than by a galloping dementia. Ryder is Blanca, the daughter of these two unlikely Chileans. By virtue of underplaying, Ryder doesn't embarrass herself, at least not until her prison torture scenes. Blanca rebels by bedding Pedro (Banderas), the revolutionary son of her father's foreman. Banderas' Spanish accent is authentic, which makes him seem oddly out of place in a cast that includes Redgrave and Mueller-Stahl as Clara's parents.

Only Close as Ferula, Trueba's spinster sister, manages to grasp Allende's point about the evolution of feminine consciousness in a world ruled by men. August keeps the rest of Allende's Spirits decidedly earth-bound. No matter. The movie will vanish quickly; the book will endure.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Whoomp! (There It Is)”

    Tag Team | 1993

    Cecil Glenn — a.k.a., "D.C." — was a cook at Magic City, a nude dance club in Atlanta, when he first heard women shout "Whoomp — there it is!" Inspired by the party chant, he and partner Steve "Roll'n" Gibson wrote a song around it. Undaunted by label rejections, they borrowed $2,500 from Glenn's parents and pressed 800 singles, which quickly sold out in the Atlanta area. A record deal came soon after. Glenn said the song was meant for positive partying. "If you're going to say 'Whoomp there it is,' and you're doing something negative, we'd rather it not have come out of your mouth."

    More Song Stories entries »