Thursday 31 January 2013

Movie Review: Housesitter (1992)

An average romantic comedy with a mellow mix of mild laughs and middling passion, Housesitter neither agitates nor excites. Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn are both a tad too old for their roles, but quickly settle into pleasant-enough whimsical jousting.

Davis (Martin) is a strait-laced but creative Boston-based architect, madly in love with Becky (Dana Delany). He tries to convince her to marry him by designing and building a huge house in his idyllic hometown of Dobbs Mill. She turns him down. Three months later, a still-depressed Davis has a one-night stand with flighty waitress Gwen (Hawn), pouring his heart out to her about the still-empty house and his broken heart. When Gwen wakes up alone, she treks to Dobbs Mill, finds the house, establishes it as her residence, and convinces all the townsfolk, including Becky and Davis' mother and father (Julie Harris and Donald Moffat), that she is now married to Davis.

One lie leads to many more, and soon Davis arrives and joins in the treachery. Realizing that Becky is suffering pangs of jealousy and is much more interested in him now that he is found attractive by another woman, he prolongs the charade of pretending to be married to attract Becky's increased attentions. Gwen also sets about improving Davis' stature at his architecture firm by schmoozing his boss with another mountain of lies. But while Davis is naively using Gwen to win Becky's heart, Gwen harbours desires to turn the sham marriage into a real relationship.

Martin and Hawn, both at 46 years old, should really be beyond this material. Hawn tries hard to fit into younger clothes, but all the leotards and short skirts are a tight and awkward fit, sacrificing elegance for finagled sexiness. And at this age, Gwen's personality of the free-spirited ditzy blonde who can't stop manufacturing elaborate lies is a sign of at least severe immaturity and more likely mental illness, neither attributes that should be attractive to a staid architect.

Martin's Davis is also difficult to explain, shown to be a good and competent architect, yet labouring at a drafting table more suitable for a recent graduate, and not yet in possession of basic business skills such as not insulting the boss in a moment of glory.

In other words, the Mark Stein script not only telegraphs every intention in bold letters, it is fundamentally contrived to play-up the screen personas of the two leads, regardless of the passage of time. But experienced pros that they are, Martin and Hawn make the most of it. In as much as characters in a story all about lying can pretend to be convincing, they have fun without ever needing to stretch as a couple hating to fall in love with each other through a thicket of falsehoods, and they uncork decent chemistry as two misfits slipping into something resembling love.

And while it is easy to see how Davis would eventually get enamoured by a resourceful woman who brings out the best in him, it's a bit more challenging to uncover how she hopes to benefit from the relationship, other than by living in a big house with a boring and somewhat dim husband.

Director Frank Oz maintains breezy pacing and captures plenty of small town New England charm, Concord, Massachusetts among the settings providing a scenic backdrop for the complex romance.

Housesitter is unremarkable and inoffensive, with enough chuckles and well-intended syrup to liven up the party at a large, airy house.

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