BILL FORSYTH, who makes quirky movies in Scotland, has crossed the Atlantic to do the same.
"Housekeeping," set in the Pacific Northwest, has the malted blend of harebrained charm, eccentricity and mythicism of Forsyth's other films. Only there's a wee bit too much of it here. You may tire of the self-conscious cuteness and Forsyth's germs of endearment.
Adapted from Marilynne Robinson's 1981 novel, "Housekeeping" finds three female characters in a rundown house in fictional Fingerbone, where the wackiness collects like dust bunnies. Orphaned by their mother's suicide, sisters Ruth (Sara Walker) and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) find themselves under the guiding hand of their strange Aunt Sylvie (Christine Lahti).
Sylvie's guidance is not what they expected. Part overgrown child, part homeless Annie Hall, Aunt Sylvie's more at home snoozing on park benches and wandering around in the dark than packing lunches for school. When the sisters play hooky for several days, she seems not to notice. And when a shin-high flood fills the house, she sloshes around in it like a benevolent amphibian. Disapproval of Sylvie builds, from sister Lucille, who wants to upgrade herself, and from the townspeople who begin to ask questions about this laissez-faire guardian. Ruth and Sylvie, however, find a sympathetic bond -- they're cut from the same thrift-shop cloth.
Lahti's performance as Sylvie is full of pleasant surprises, but she seems too aware of how adorable she's being -- there being traces of a smile of self-congratulation. And Sara Walker as Ruth is not quite up to her pivotal role as narrator and the Sister Who Stayed.
But Forsyth's sweet momentum builds, and you forgive. With the same team that brought you the lilty "Local Hero," "Gregory's Girl" and "Comfort and Joy" (namely, cinematographer Michael Coulter, production designer Adrienne Atkinson and editor Michael Ellis), Forsyth fills "Housekeeping" with special moments: Townspeople crowd together to exchange theories about a train that has just plummeted into an ice-covered lake and Aunt Sylvie burns the drapes as she lights candles on a birthday cake.
In a wonderful scene, Sylvie and Ruth take off into the lake with someone else's boat. "There's a man yelling at us," says a worried Ruth.
"Oh, I know," says Aunt Sylvie.
HOUSEKEEPING (PG) -- At the Key.