The Money Pit (1986)

It’s hard to hate on Tom Hanks, which sometimes makes it hard to hate on Tom Hanks’s characters. Like many of the people he plays, Walter Fielding is a capable, agreeable everyman who erupts into a maniacal laugh-cry when he’s pushed to the extreme. You can easily sympathize with a guy who’s been duped into a purchasing a money pit and now has to deal with the walls of his house caving in on him. At the same time, Walter’s a tax lawyer for famous musicians, so you’d think he’d be a little more circumspect about spending $200,000 on a too-good-to-be-true New York mansion. He and his girlfriend, Anna (Shelley Long), buy the house with nary an inspection and then are shocked when it starts to crumble.

Adopting sensible home buying practices is not the point though, and instead the movie gives a nod to those who know the pain of purchasing a lemon. My house is literally sinking into the backyard, and I fear the pipes will crease and burst or the whole structure will just split in half soon. Like others who have experienced some housing disaster, I can readily identify with Walter and Anna as things go from terrible to catastrophic. Then again, the anxiety and helplessness of dealing with decaying foundations and oozing sewage doesn’t have the same bite in fictional comedy as it does in real life.

Walter and Anna’s money pit isn’t going to stay that way for long, after all. They need to get the place up to code at the very least because they have nowhere to go now that they’ve been kicked out of their previous home. Granted, that city flat belonged to Anna’s ex-husband, Max (Alexander Godunov), who also happens to be the conductor for the orchestra for which she plays. The couple rush to find something affordable and settle on the deceptive fixer-upper owned by an actual Nazi and his wife. The smart thing is to not make deals with Nazis, and that’s really the root of the problem as I see it.

The story nevertheless tries to win you back to Walter and Anna’s side with some truly outrageous disasters. Everything inch of their house conspires to do them in, though I attribute that to bad karma from its previous owners. There aren’t enough fingers to count how many things go wrong before the night is out. The front door falls off, the bed sinks into the floor, the faucets belch sludge, a raccoon attacks from the dumbwaiter, and it just gets worse. Not only is the house self-destructing from the inside out, the contractors hired to fix the problems don’t have the greatest handle on things. It’s the kind of never-ending wreckage I’m accustomed to seeing from wacky Hong Kong comedies, and in fact, it would make a great Lunar New Year film, so someone get on that.

The carousel of destruction is dizzying though, and after a few spins, it all looks the same. The cracks in Walter and Anna’s home are reflected in their faltering relationship, and Anna starts to reconsider the life she had with Max. She finds that a man with a roof over his head and a functioning shower is rather attractive, and I don’t disagree. None of this character drama hides the fact, however, that the theme of the film is “things that break.” The bulk of the humor relies on money pit chaos, and I feel the flaming kitchen wires or Walter/Hanks’s maniacal laugh-cry is a signal to put an end to things.

“The Heart is So Willing” by Stephen Bishop:

Released: 1986
Prod: Kathleen Kennedy, Art Levinson, Frank Marshall
Dir: Richard Benjamin
Writer: David Giler, Lowell Ganz
Cast: Tom Hanks, Shelley Long, Alexander Godunov, Maureen Stapleton, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco,
Time: 91 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019