Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Money Pit Review

There was a time when Tom Hanks made comedies. I can only assume that before the Aids, the Second World War and being stranded in space, he was a more positive person. The Money Pit is from that lost era. Tom Hanks plays Walter Fielding, an attorney who specialises in the music industry. He and his partner Anna Crowley, played by Shelley Long, are convinced to buy a huge house for $200,000. The apparent low price of the house is quickly explained as it slowly crumbles around them. Even if they can fix up the house, will their relationship be able to take the strain?

When I was younger I really liked this film, so I was looking forward to revisiting it. I think part of why I liked this film so much was the huge reliance on slapstick comedy throughout. The majority of the scenes in this film are Tom Hanks or Shelley Long attempting to use things in the house, only for them to break in ridiculous ways as they do so. That’s it, that’s the comedy element covered. Some of these sequences are imaginatively designed but I didn’t find myself laughing at any of them. One issue is that most slapstick, if not most comedy, requires a set up.

In ‘Home Alone’ the misfortunes that befall the Wet Bandits are funny because we see Kevin set up the traps. We as the audience know what is going to happen to them, they do not. Thus them trying and failing to avoid the traps becomes funny. ‘The Money Pit’ lacks these kind of set ups. We see the couple filling a bathtub with water, it falls through the floor when they finish. We could have had the floorboards creaking, or dust falling from the ceiling as they filled it. We don’t get these traditional set ups because we as the audience are meant to root for them, hope everything will work out for them. Therefore, to replace these setup scenes we get characters saying ‘Well at least nothing else can go wrong’, before things get worse.

It’s a really odd creative choice to make a film where we are meant to root for people who we are constantly told to laugh at. The only assumption I can make is that we are meant to laugh with them. The issue is that if we personally make an effort to do something in life and it goes wrong we laugh because it happened to us, because we can see the funny side of it. We experienced the setup of everything potentially working out so the pay off of it going wrong has an ironic value. We see Walter and Anna working hard to try and build the house but we don’t experience it. We’re a passive observer of their trials and thus, also a passive observer of their misfortunes. We have no real investment in the project.

The relationship between Walter and Anna is not very compelling. Walter is a positive man who makes the best of things. Anna is cynical and far less optimistic. It is hard to believe that they got together in the first place, particularly as they have very little chemistry. Anna has far more chemistry with her ex-husband Max, which makes it hard to not side with Max’s endless attempts to break her and Walter up. Walter and Anna constantly say how much they love each other, although it’s very hard to believe that they actually do.

As the rebuilding of the house takes its toll on the couple we get introduced to one of the most ridiculous situations ever committed to film. Anna is stressed and spends the evening with Max. Anna wakes up in the morning in bed with Max and has no memory of the night before. Max tells her that they slept together. Feeling guilty she tells Walter who is understandably angry and they break up. Anna is angry that Walter won’t forgive her for what she views as a drunken mistake. Max then apologies to her and reveals to her that they didn’t sleep together at all and that he was trying to break them up.

Max tries to persuade her to patch things up with Walter but she says “He’s couldn’t forgive me, I can’t forgive him for that.” Anna is very hard to sympathise with and yet we are expected to understand both her and Walter’s view on the situation. Worst of all Walter then forgives her and says “I think you sleeping with Max is the best thing that could have possibly happened to us” because “Now I know how much I care about you”.

‘The Money Pit’ is a really stupid film. Tom Hanks gives a good performance and the film has some nice conceptual ideas but overall it just doesn’t work. The jokes fall flat and the relationship between the leads is confusing. All in all, ‘The Money Pit’ should probably just be demolished.

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