Emmanuelle Chriqui is one of the 21st century’s most undervalued actresses. From 2005 to 2011, the Montreal native’s 31-episode run on HBO’s Entourage made her a recognizable pop culture figure, but she’s never quite landed a career-transforming role in mainstream or independent cinema. In Hospitality, the second feature from Nick Chakwin and David Guglielmo, Chriqui proves that she’s ready for the next phase in her career, whether it’s in westerns or thrillers. Take heed, Quentin Tarantino.
Chriqui stars as Donna, a single mother who raises her mentally disabled teenage son, Jimmy (Conner McVicker), while running a bed and breakfast named “Hospitality.” When the local sheriff, Hirsch (JR Bourne), stops by, it quickly becomes evident that Donna not only has a few secrets, but that she must essentially “play the game” to financially survive. Upon the arrival of a sweet-talkin’ new guest (Sam Trammell as Cam), Donna’s thrust into the past and forced to address some unresolved issues.
Given Hospitality’s production aesthetic — Tarantino-like credits, Martin Scorsese-like throwback music — the set design is essential. Unfortunately, Donna’s bed and breakfast lacks personality; the home doesn’t have that lived-in feel. Essentially, it looks like a carefully prepared movie set, with little to complement the protagonist’s personal tastes. To be fair, the “good and simple” look plays into a “Woman With No Name” character concept, thus leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps. Still, more visual detail would’ve provided a more immersive atmosphere, and also would’ve allowed Chakwin and Guglielmo to truly put their directorial stamp on the film.
In the pair’s first feature No Way to Live (2016), they immediately establish a specific time and place for their story about an interracial couple. And that film’s score falls in line with the 1958 setting. With Hospitality, however, Chakwin and Guglielmo take a more stripped-down approach with their visual look, which seems to diminish the inherent genre nods. No Way to Live has a strong color palette; it’s stylish and slick. In contrast, Hospitality often feels too clean — too prepared — which results in various sequences feeling watered down and bland. If Donna loves old music, where are the nostalgic items, aside from a record player? How long has she lived in this home?
With that said, Chakwin and Guglielmo clearly have talent, and I can see them making a cult classic in the near future. For Hospitality, their casting of Chriqui was a brilliant choice, as she seems like a perfect fit for this type of flick. Imagine Claudia Cardinale’s Jill McBain in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, or even Matilda Lutz’s Jen in Coralie Fargeat’s 2017 Shudder film Revenge. Donna seems like a cinematic relative; she’s sensual, tough and perceptive. Plus, Chriqui has a naturally endearing presence, so it’s fascinating when she flips the switch and gets nasty. In my opinion, Hospitality needs more of THAT — more chaos, more ass-kicking, more Chriqui. Put all the chips on the table. Spin the wheel.
Don’t get me wrong, the supporting cast delivers the goods by capitalizing on character archetypes — including a powerhouse baddie performance by Jim Beaver (Deadwood) as The Boss — but it seems like everything across the board — the design, the dialogue, the drama — should’ve been elevated a couple notches ala Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, or any truly memorable thriller in general.
Hospitality will shock viewers with its most dramatic moments, and Eli Arenson’s fantastic cinematography significantly elevates key scenes. In addition, the music selections beautifully underline character bonds, whether it’s Donna and her son dancing together or a love scene with a guest featuring the haunting “Forget About” by Sibylle Baier. Hospitality is anything but a safe film, but it’s somewhat predictable with all the blatant foreshadowing. Next time around, hopefully Chakwin and Guglielmo will push just a little bit harder to deliver more boss moments. In fact, “The Boss” seems like a good title for an indie western starring Chriqui.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor and a freelance video essayist/writer. After graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, he lived in Hollywood, California from 2006 to 2012 and worked closely with ABC On-Air Promotions as the production manager for LUSSIER. From 2014 to 2017, Q.V. wrote over 600 video scripts for WatchMojo, and he’s the author of their first e-book, WatchMojo’s 100 Decade-Defining Movie Moments of the 1990s. In January 2018, Q.V. joined Fandor’s freelance team and currently has four on-going video essay series: Icons + Outliers, Riding the Wave, Between the Lines and Fandor Italian Style. This past year, Q.V. has contributed to IndieWire’s weekly critics survey and has also written for RogerEbert.com, Screen Rant and Crooked Marquee. He currently resides in Fargo, North Dakota.