The Casserole Club (2012) – By Roger Carpenter

It’s the late 60’s and a group of bored housewives try to spice up their cookie-cutter lives by meeting once a week to experiment with recipes while the men are at the country club. They dub themselves "the casserole club". After several meetings, one of the ladies suggests a contest: invite the husbands to the next event and allow them to be the judges of whose casserole is the best. But once the food is served, the alcohol begins to flow, and pretty soon, the group is playing games. The first game is more of a prank; it’s called "Railroad Tracks". Sweet and virginal Marybelle is blindfolded and spun around and then she must keep her feet on the belts that are laid in two lines like the rails on a railroad track. But what she doesn’t know is that one of the husbands is lying on his back between the belts so he can look up her dress as she passes over. Eventually the games become more and more risqué until one drunk wife accidentally spills out of her dress, baring her breasts to all. She’s just tipsy enough to decide she may as well finish disrobing and take a dip in the pool; the others follow suit as well. What begins as a simple casserole contest turns into a wife-swapping party.

Director Steve Balderson has created a terrific late 60’s world, complete with authentic set dressing, clothing, and hairstyles. Even the dialogue is "groovy", if you know what I mean. It’s a terrifically accurate portrayal of 1960’s suburbia as the housewives stay at home to cook and clean while the men work and spend the weekends playing golf at the country club. But while the world of The Casserole Club may seem cookie cutter simple, each couple is more complicated than it first seems. Sugar and Conrad’s marriage is slowly failing. He’s an arrogant, borderline abusive husband who ignores his wife and cuts his thigh with a razorblade because he’s so miserable. Marybelle is married to Max. While he’s more adventuresome, Marybelle is sexually repressed and very religious. The Holleran’s are very much in love, but are quite interested in expanding their horizons. All the men lust after Kitty Bloom, but her husband, Sterling, wants to experiment with an entirely different gender altogether. And finally, there are the Johnson’s who are a few years older than the rest of the neighbors, and quite open about exploring their sexuality.

As the meetings continue, the couples continue to expand on the original party, even inviting other friends into the mix. But one night tragedy strikes and one of the husbands accidentally drowns in the swimming pool. This trauma lays pent-up feelings bare and the The Casserole Club begins to disintegrate, as do many of the couples. The film rapidly shifts gears from sex farce to full-blown drama as each couple must sort out their deepest feelings, from guilt and sadness, to embarrassment and even rage. In the end, some couples will survive while others will not, but each couple will be changed forever.

The ensemble cast is composed of many veteran character actors and Balderson has imbued the film with a slightly unrealistic, slightly discolored look reminiscent of many films from the late 1960’s. The cinematography is very good, switching from smooth shots to slightly jerky handheld shots and rapid editing to portray the disarray at the parties and the tripped-out minds of the revelers. The film does contain strong sexuality and frank language but surprisingly little nudity; Balderson never crosses the line into tastelessness, opting instead to create an erotic film with class, especially during the scenes that depict various characters opening their closet doors, so to speak.

The Casserole Club is an interesting film that explores themes such as the sanctity of marriage, the trust and responsibility between close friends who share intimate encounters, and the inevitable fallout from these broken relationships. The Casserole Club is being released by Breaking Glass Pictures and streets July 3. For more information, see www.breakingglasspictures.com.