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The Nostalgic Attic: The Money Pit (1986)

22 June 2013

The Money Pit (1986)

"Ahh, home crap home!"

There's nothing quite like piling a whole ton of stress upon lovable characters and watching them fall apart for comedy value. All it took was a disasterous holiday to nearly smash up the Griswalds perfect relationship. A few days travelling home together for Thanksgiving to drive both Neal Page and Del Griffith to each others throats. The fun comes from seeing how far our fictional friends can be pushed before their limits of acceptance is reached and the gloves come off. Our empathy towards these characters is always strong; we don't really want to see them break up (or break each other up), as deep down the fears and anxieties that they have to go through are ones we will probably all have to deal with in real life, minus the hilarious consequences of course. Who hasn't had a holiday go pear shaped? Who hasn't had a lengthy trip home meet serious delays and frustration?

The Money Pit trades on similar fears that most adults will have to experience at some point when they decide to buy or build their own home. Band agent/lawyer Walter Fielding (Tom Hanks; Splash, Bachelor Party, Big) and uptight classical musician Anna (Shelly Long; Night Shift, Losin' It, Outrageous Fortune) are somehow still living in her ex boyfriend Max' apartment. Max (Alexander Godunov, probably best known as bad guy Karl in Die Hard) is a world famous composer freshly home from travelling Europe, and wanting his old apartment back. Walter and Anna are thrown out abruptly, and begin a desperate search for something affordable for them to move in to.

They get notification of what seems like a bargain; a massive old house that the current owner urgently needs out of. The old lady has a pretty desperate sob story ("That's why I've gotta sell the house. It turns out, Carlos was Hitler's pool man."), and sure, the place could do with a little work, but surely it's too good to turn down such a deal? Clearly so! Walter first has to beg the cash off one of the child superstars on his books, Benny, and then they are all set. It doesn't take long for the bigger picture to become clear. The old place starts to literally fall down around them in an escalating degree of visual gags that will eventually drive them to despair.

Their troubles only start with the arrival of sleazeball builder Art Shirk (Joe Mantegna, Fat Tony from The Simpsons), soon the house has more holes in it than they began with. Collapsed stair cases, bathtubs with dangerous looking water, explosive wiring... and it's not long before Walter and Anna begin tearing each other apart. The fact that Max is still lurking in the picture and trying to win back Anna doesn't help with Walters frustration, but as things start to come together for the house, will they still be able to look lovingly at each other when it's all over and say, 'it was worth it'?

For the most part, The Money Pit is a solidly enjoyable comedy. The visual gags involving the destruction of the house are spot on; one scene in particular in which Hanks sets off a domino effect of chaos involving scaffolding is effectively done, same goes for the explosive wiring in the kitchen, the collapsing staircase and Walter sinking into the rug. I also find the sight of muscled gay bikers doing the construction work to be endlessly hilarious. It all has a cartoonish quality that works well, and fits in nicely with the increasingly nightmarish tone of it all. The script is also packed full of great lines (the re-occurring 'Two weeks' gag is great, every handyman should be using it) and some of the insulting exchanges between the two leads are genuinely laugh-out-loud worthy. Most of the comedy weight rests squarely on the shoulders of Hanks, however. He knows how to crank up the madness in a way that few other comedy actors could do as effectively, and he plays obliviously idiotic-but-charming perfectly. His performance is what sells most of the visual gags, too.

Shelley Long does slightly less well here than Hanks. She generally handles the verbal humour fine (the "You are so much less attractive when I'm sober" exchange between both leads is one of the funniest in any film I have ever seen), but she seems an odd match with some of the more outlandish moments. Her delivery is completely off in parts, but saying that, Hanks has the better material to work with. Unfortunately her character is saddled with what can only be put down to an '80's-ism' in terms of plotting, when Anna and Walter do finally break up. The justification for her character cheating (even though she doesn't, but she thinks she did) and for "He couldn't forgive me, so I can never forgive him" just feels so wrong, and actually makes her quite unlikable for a period. It's not a deal breaker on the film, or anything, but it just felt poorly handled in the script. Another minor script issue is the book ending of the film with Walters father. It just never really gets explained as to why Walter is having to cover his dads ass financially, and feels out of place in a film that is so focused on the two lead characters. Once again, these scenes are pretty minor, and don't really upset the tone of the film, but you just wonder why they were included at all.

Directed by Richard Benjamin (My Favorite Year, My Stepmother is an Alien) in a competent manner, the film hits the right notes overall despite a few odd tones here and there. Benjamin handles the pacing of the physical chaos to a T, and the film never feels dull throughout the running time. Spielberg also had his toe in this one on the production side, and the movie has a much more polished feel than say, Three O'Clock High, which he also produced around the same time. The film was pretty poorly received by critics at the time, but went on to do healthy box office business, and became a reasonably big hit on video and TV. I wasn't aware, but apparently the film is a remake of the Cary Grant comedy, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream Home, from 1948. Will have to check that out at some point.

Most people have seen The Money Pit at some stage of their lives; it played endlessly on TV throughout the late 80's and into the mid 90's. Still, the film is worth re-watching if you get the chance to do so. Hanks is as watchable as he ever was during that golden period of comedy, and fun is still to be had with the great practical effects of the house going to pieces. When I was a kid the film felt like a far-fetched slapstick comedy, but as I have gotten older and had to deal with dodgy electricians, leaky pipes and the general stress of maintaining a house, I can see where the humour comes from. Thankfully we can live vicariously through Walter and Anna as their hopes and dreams get dumped on, so we don't have to experience it in real life. Well, here's hoping our houses don't fall down overnight. And if they do, fingers crossed it'll only take two weeks to sort out.

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At 22 June 2013 at 05:50 , Blogger joe said...

When the raccoon attacked Shelley Long I laughed my ass off

At 22 June 2013 at 06:16 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

There is actually too many funny moments for me to try and mention in this review. Hanks' girlish shriek when the doorbell explodes into flames makes me laugh out loud every time.

At 26 June 2013 at 17:03 , Blogger Grimm said...

I remember this film! I totally forgot all about it. Great write-up! This seriously got me wanting to watch it again haha. Like Joe above said, the raccoon scene is killer!

Digging this blog a lot man. I just followed you. Keep up the good work!

If you wanna talk horror, swing on over and check my blog out!


At 27 June 2013 at 00:53 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks Grimm, I'm all about the horror. Will definitely check out your blog.

At 17 May 2014 at 19:16 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I saw this one on home video much later - I liked it - but like you - as a teen - the implications of the house problems meant little to me and I mainly just enjoyed the slapstick. I would like to see this one again as a grown up. And it is a semi-remake of Mr, Blandings.

At 18 May 2014 at 01:11 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

I definitely have a different take on the film now, being a mortgage-paying adult, but it is still lots of fun. Thanks for the reminder on 'Mr Blandings', Craig, as I only discovered that bit of info when researching this for the review. I've never seen the film, so I really should rectify that.


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