Now considered one of our premier dramatic actors, Tom Hanks spent much of the 1980s playing comedic roles, both on film and TV. The Money Pit is probably considered on the lower end of his movies from this era, even though over 35 years later it seems even more timely. A remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home, aspiring to home ownership and making ones house tailored exactly to ones needs remains pretty much the same. The renovation craze of the last four decades, embodied by This Old House and HGTV, also makes the movie seem very now.
Walter Fielding (Hanks) an attorney, and Anna Crowley (Shelley Long), a violinist, are madly in love and planning to marry. Unexpectedly told to vacate the apartment they are subletting, they find a mansion on Long Island that is being sold in a “distress sale.” The owner (Maureen Stapleton) cons them into believing the house is worth way more than what she’s being forced to sell it for. They buy the mansion, believing they have made a great deal and can easily renovate it.
The mansion turns out to be a lemon of epic proportions. Everything from the plumbing to the electricity fail. The stairs literally collapse under Walter’s feet. Animals live in the dumb waiter.
Desperate to get the renovations under way, they find the costs skyrocketing and face endless delays (they are constantly told everything will be finished in two weeks). Complicating matters further is Anna’s ex-husband Max (Alexander Godunov), an orchestra conductor who wants her back.
I think one reason why the movie was not received terribly well by the critics when released is because much of the comedy, directed by Richard Benjamin, is of the slapstick variety, which is generally looked down upon as not sophisticated. I love slapstick. This movie has some stunning set pieces. The house almost seems to be trying to kill Walter and Anna. Eventually the front of the property looks like a war zone.
The one scene that most remember is the “domino effect” scene where most of the scaffolding for the renovation collapses to opera music because of some ill-timed electrical equipment going on and off.
It’s fun to laugh at these two yuppies who thought they acquired a mansion at a bargain price and instead find their lives and bank accounts turning to crap for months on end. While it’s certainly somewhat exaggerated, anyone who has lived through a home renovation will probably relate—maybe in ways they would prefer not to relate.
Hanks and Long make a charming couple. Even while you laugh at their completely unrealistic outlook, you may also find yourself rooting for them to succeed in their endeavor because the actors are so likable. Godunov is obviously having a great time playing an unapologetic narcissist.
The film may not be one of the best remembered comedies of the 1980s, but I enjoy it immensely every time I watch it. Home ownership is still a part of the American Dream. The Money Pit shows it can also become a nightmare, or at the very least, a test of our endurance.