A Holy Face: Our Review of ‘Household Saints’

Posted in Theatrical by - March 03, 2024
A Holy Face: Our Review of ‘Household Saints’

A few Italian-American women, with a baby or two in tow, visit their grandparents who tell them an outlandish story. That story begins with Catherine Falconetti (Tracey Ullman) and Joseph Santagelo (Vincent D’Onofrio). Both became a couple because, of all things, a card game where Joseph won Catherine fair and square. Despite having an awkward first night as a couple, they find pleasure and love in each other. Both aren’t easy to find in the twentieth century’s middle decades where religion and repression rule certain communities. Catherine’s first hurdle is Joseph’s mother Carmela (Judith Malina), whose old wives tales give her neuroses, which are dangerous during her pregnancies. After Carmela’s death and Catherine’s stillborn pregnancy, the latter gives birth to Teresa, who develops a certain religious fanaticism. This is the story of Nancy Savoca’s Household Saints, a lost 90s deep cut that’s making a recent repertory return.

This film has a lot going for it in a thematic sense, and it’s easy for a director to lose their way with such material. I may get to where Savoca has her occasional fumbles but she sticks the landing here for the most part. The film, for the most part, captures the cycle of progress and regress in real life. In Household Saints, Catherine and Joseph unlearn all the indoctrination from their kind of Christianity only for Teresa to treat God like her best friend. It’s great that this film is returning to theatres for Millennial and Gen-Z patrons, both going through their generational skirmishes. Yes, I’m Team Catherine, and the film does show Catherine’s attachments as childlike. It’s a problematic association as young Teresa grows into an adult (Lili Taylor) but it still feels somehow respectful. 

I am a ‘film critic’, a job that requires erudition, but I am also a man with opinions and desires. I say this because if nothing else, Household Saints belongs to a golden age of cinema when Vincent D’Onofrio was hot. The other men here under Savoca’s female gaze are fascinating, as she depicts them as having truncated desires. Teresa’s maternal uncle Nicky (Michael Rispoli) is in love with Asian culture, the film’s subplot which may rub people the wrong way today. Then there’s Leonard Villanova, who I’m mentioning because that character is where Michael Imperioli gets his start. Teresa damns him with faint praise as she journals about him like she’s his brother, even if they eventually date. I watched this like many critics do and despite its subplots, this is probably one of those films that one should experience in a theatre.

Watch Household Saints during its one night engagement at TIFF.

This post was written by
While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
Comments are closed.
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i['GoogleAnalyticsObject']=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){ (i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o), m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m) })(window,document,'script','//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js','ga'); ga('create', 'UA-61364310-1', 'auto'); ga('send', 'pageview');