Review by Sean Boelman
A nonlinear storyline can be either a great assistance or a significant burden to a script, and in the case of Atom Egoyan’s new drama Guest of Honour, it is mostly the latter. Weighing down a solid script with a difficult-to-follow structure, this is a frustrating watch, if only because its potential is so strongly evident.
The film follows a woman who believes she deserves to stay in jail despite having not committed the sexual assault for which she was convicted, causing her father, a health inspector, to take his vengeance out on local restaurant owners. If this sounds like a potentially problematic premise, that’s because it is, as Egoyan treads a thin line of insightful and out-of-touch.
There is certainly the possibility that the film could be seen as offensive, its story being somewhat disrespectful to victims of sexual assault. To imply that someone would lie about sexual assault for personal gain is dangerous, as it is one step away from saying that victims should not be believed.
Structurally, the film is a near total mess. There are three storylines: one following the protagonist in the time leading up to the alleged assault, one following her father in the aftermath of her conviction, and the final one showing her as she speaks with a priest in preparation for her father’s funeral.
There are some interesting things happening in the film’s style, particularly in the father’s storyline, but the way in which Egoyan weaves between the three stories is unsatisfying. The narrative arguably would have been much more effective had it been presented in a segmented linear format, preserving continuity of emotion.
Another issue with the film is that the characters aren’t particularly likable or sympathetic. Ultimately, all of the characters except for the priest (who serves as the audience’s lens to the story) are doing terrible things. The viewer is meant to feel bad for them, but their sometimes despicable actions make that difficult.
Regardless, the cast does a very good job in their roles. David Thewlis is at his career best as the protagonist’s father, perfectly capturing the broken emotion which the character is experiencing. Laysla De Oliveira is fittingly stoic as the protagonist. Luke Wilson feels underused as the priest but is fine nevertheless.
Guest of Honour is a film that is much more confusing than it needs to be. It seems that, with a few more revisions, Egoyan could have delivered an interesting case study, but as is, it falls a bit flat.
Guest of Honour is now streaming in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.