The split-level house of American dreams and boomer memories probably has never been used so evocatively or been as central to a movie as it is in "The Playroom." In the 1975-set coming-of-age drama — a kids'-eye view of adult malaise — that house is essentially a character, showcasing the generational disconnect through a cataclysmic night for one family.
Directed by Julia Dyer from a script by her late sister, Gretchen Dyer, the film uses the upper-middle-class setting effectively, even as it resorts to heavy-handed symbolism and melodrama in its dour, mostly unforgiving portrait of parental dysfunction.
It's a portrait that still manages to get under the skin, in large part thanks to Molly Parker and John Hawkes, who play the distracted and oblivious Cantwells: hard-drinking Donna and mild-mannered enabler Martin. Their four kids, led by teenager Maggie (first-timer Olivia Harris), regularly clean the living room of ashtrays and glasses from the folks' previous "grown-up evening."
When the partying starts up again, spiraling into a variation on "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with a neighbor couple, the kids retreat to their attic playroom, where they spin fantastic tales of escape — an allegorical device that the movie exhausts.