Housesitter (1992)
Housesitter (1992)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: June 12th, 1992 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Frank Oz Actors: Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Dana Delany, Julie Harris, Donald Moffat, Peter MacNicol, Laurel Cronin, Cherry Jones

 


 

B

oston-based associate architect Newton Davis (Steve Martin) drives his girlfriend Becky (Dana Delaney) to the brand new house he just finished building. When he proposes to her, she promptly refuses, shattering his plans of a balanced union between a wild guy and a sane woman. Three months later, with his pal Marty (Peter MacNicol) at a party for the completion of a grand office building – held in honor for his work with the largest architectural firm in New England – Davis spies beautiful Hungarian waitress Gwen (Goldie Hawn). As it turns out, she’s not foreign at all.

The two walk back to her place (which turns out to be just above the Café Budapest, the location of the gathering), where he reveals the story of the house and his failed relationship – and she reveals a striking forwardness and coquettish deceptiveness. After spending the night together, she decides to head for the picturesque little suburb of Dobbs Mill to see Newton’s magnificent and completely unoccupied house, with which he just couldn’t part. In town, she shops for food and wares to furnish the place, but runs into Becky, who is understandably flustered when Gwen claims she’s Davis’ new wife. To complicate matters further, she purchases a chair from a random man, who just so happens to be George W. Davis (Donald Moffat), the local principal… and Newton’s father.

“I don’t believe this!” The setup is ingeniously unconventional (or, perhaps, typical for comedies of the ‘90s, especially when they involve Hawn), taking a circumstance of coincidence and fantasy and escalating it through a series of lies, until the characters are inextricably (and inescapably) consumed by comedic falsities. Gwen is a pathological liar, but her intentions are decent and her ruse is playfully sweet. If this were a realistic depiction, she’d be something of a psychopath, insinuating herself into Davis’ life like a professional con artist. Amusingly, Newton uses his own measures of deception (though far less labored) to attempt to win back his ex-girlfriend.

“Don’t yell at me – we’re only pretending to be married.” Martin and Hawn’s chemistry is spectacular, building up a love story of elaborate prevarications and convenient arrangements to turn a romantic infatuation into the proof of husband material – and aligning mismatched companions. Things are continually improvised on the fly, but it’s always evident that the two leads are perfect for each other and must counter their opposing attractions to end up together (out of fake matrimony and into the real deal).

As with many comedies founded on tempestuous fraudulence, the climax is bound to bring all the facades crashing down around the instigators, perhaps too detrimentally for a proper conclusion. But “Housesitter” has the sensibility to mix awkwardness, uncomfortableness, and laugh-out-loud humor into an impressively satisfying resolution. Eventually, after the lead couple has full-fledged, genuine conversations about the fake people and events they’ve created (even obtaining actors to fill in additional roles), transitioning from phony marriage counseling to jealousy to the expected realization of rightness, their sham becomes as blissfully harmonious as Miles Goodman’s smooth jazz hybrid score. The film is a rare, expertly orchestrated romantic comedy confection.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10