Sundance 2019: Imaginary Order

Kate Alberts and Wendi McLendon-Covey appear in Imaginary Order by Debra Eisenstadt, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

With a career-best performance by Wendi McLendon-Covey, Debra Eisenstadt’s Imaginary Order is a classic indie in every sense of the word.

Cathy’s (Wendi McLendon-Covey) home life is not what it used to be once upon a time.  Her relationship with her daughter, Tara (Kate Alberts), is falling apart. This is in spite of quitting her job so as to become a full-time mother to Tara.  All the while, Cathy’s husband, Matthew (Steve Little), may very well be cheating on her.  She does not know this for sure but suspects it early on.

Meanwhile, Cathy’s sister, Gail (Catherine Curtin), is going on a meditation retreat for six weeks.  She requires Cathy’s services in order to take care of her cat.  This is easier said than done.  All it takes is an open door for the cat to run away.  While cat-sitting, Cathy ends up spying on the next door neighbor, Gemma Jean (Christine Woods).  A friendship soon sparks between them and Christine invites Cathy to meet her family.  This includes son Xander (Max Burkholder) and husband Paul (Graham Sibley).  The polite person that she is, Cathy cozies up this family.  The reality is that she should have run far away or at least limited her time to Gemma Jean only.

Before Cathy knows it, Xander soon crushes on her.  Cathy is having none of it so what does Xander do but plant the seeds for World War 3.  By which, I mean he’ll do whatever it takes to mess with her life.  If it means getting together with Tara to make Cathy angry, so be it!

There’s barely even a trace of Beverly Goldberg in Wendi McLendon-Covey’s performance as Cathy.  Between the ABC sitcom and the several film roles I’ve seen, this may be the most dramatic performance by far.  She might still be playing a family matriarch but not in the same over protective way that we’re used to seeing.  Even though McLendon-Covey was not originally set to play Cathy, I honestly cannot imagine anyone else in the role.

What writer-director Debra Eisenstadt has done here is given us quite the unique coming-of-age story.  It’s a story that’s being told on two different fronts: Cathy and Tara.  Cathy comes to the realization that her family no longer needs her in the same way.  It just takes Gemma Jean’s family for her to realize it.  For Tara, she’s no longer the sweet innocent girl that her mother thinks about.  All in all, Eisenstadt packs a lot of themes into Imaginary Order.

CAST:  Wendi McLendon-Covey, Christine Woods, Max Burkholder, Kate Alberts, Steve Little, Graham Sibley, Catherine Curtin

Imaginary Order held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.