Companion review for Top 10 Tom Hanks Films 1984 – 1989
A disaster movie that involves nations falling to their knees is epic, dramatic and sentimental; a disaster movie that involves two people moving into the house from hell is either nail-biting horror, or unadulterated, unsentimental hilarity; here, it is the latter.
This is eighties comedy at its best, a disaster film that doesn’t feature flag waving heroism or grandiose styling, but locates itself in the simple surroundings of a couple’s new home and watches as the disaster takes place – the American Dream crumbling down. Yet The Money Pit isn’t just a minor disaster film built on screwball foundations, it is corporate America teaching lessons to the uninitiated. It’s the bigwigs shouting that if you start at the top and everything begins to fall down beneath you, you’ll be fine if you’ve got enough money to keep throwing at the problem. And in this Reagan-era, with everyone who is anyone fighting for one more buck, those with the most come morning will have their houses still standing. It’s a tempting metaphor for American society at the time, but one’s mighty castle cannot be the external trappings of the American Dream. The classic car, the beautiful mansion – but it’ll all go to waste if the dream goes tumbling down the money pit.
Arriving in 1986, Richard Benjamin’s The Money Pit saw Tom Hanks move into a new house with his girlfriend Anna (Shelley Long). Just as soon as they move into their dream home things start to go very wrong. One thing after another – the front door falling off its hinges twice, the stairs collapsing, the taps gushing out dirty sludge instead of water, and rampant pests living in the cupboards. Perhaps they should have investigated the house a little further but after Anna’s ex-husband returns home, supplanting them from his apartment they were using, drastic and quick measures were required. The disaster here is rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things but it’s a personal disaster nevertheless. This is Die Hard heroics for the yuppie generation with Hanks’ character quite literally fighting his own home – after all his life, his money, and his immediate family are all on the line.
His driving force and determination is all Reagan-era idealism, the necessity for faith’ and the idea that someone should have faith in their own abilities. Hanks’ character isn’t going to let this house stop him on his way, seemingly, to the ideal’ notion of American life. Isn’t the house and the whole idea of him conquering it, a personal grounding, metaphorically, for U.S imperialism during the period? Yet coming as it does in the middle of the eighties with Reagan’s shine beginning to diminish, the public’s attention being drawn away from an ending Cold War, focussing on problems formed from the government’s neglect of domestic situations, the character Hanks plays here becomes a survivalist on his home soil. Instead of problems thousands of miles away, suddenly the fight is at home and it appeared that at any moment the stairs could come crashing down with you on them.
It’s a credit to Tom Hanks and Shelley Long that their comedic chemistry and charming performances sustain a film that ultimately has one joke running the whole way through. Hanks is especially good here and this would certainly rank as one of his best comedy performances pre-Philadelphia. He brings the slapstick energy of Rick in Bachelor Party and the dry sarcasm of Ray Peterson from The Burbs, and he works off Shelley Long’s loving wife wonderfully.
Richard Benjamin’s direction is restrained as he lets the actors and the situations take charge, allowing the camera capture those moments after another bombshell, those perfect reactions the two leads do so well. If anything the movie works as a piece of brilliantly executed comedy because its set-up so wonderfully encapsulates the reaction’, a facet of comedy the actors have to make for their selves. The moment the bath falls through the floor has Hanks in hysterical, uncontrollable laughter and his incomprehensible gaze as the upstairs fireplace and chimney collapse to the ground is just great viewing. He makes the inconceivable, dumbstruck facial expression so funny, it seems hardly surprising his early roles consisted of him being placed in difficult’ situations.
But the film wouldn’t be the comedy classic it is without some great timing on director Benjamin’s part and a funny script from David Giler. The moment Hanks falls through the floor boards is timed superbly, Benjamin leaving the camera rolling waiting for the thud, Shelley peering into the now vacant hole in the floor. Giler’s line immediately following, Well thanks for that fall, we’re now the same height’ is good, but Benjamin not showing Hanks’ face after the chimney collapses until he gets back into bed covered in soot is very amusing. The centrepiece though has to be a blinded Hanks, suddenly covered in white paint, doing a stumbling, Chaplin-like walk over the scaffolding erected outside the house, culminating in everyone running for their lives and Hanks flying down the garden in a wheelbarrow, falling into the pond and the water feature suddenly switching on and beginning to pee on his head.
Despite a couple of minor flaws – Anna’s ex-husband played by Alexander Godunov is a rather wasted and extraneous sub-plot that doesn’t quite fit, while the film sways far too close to over-sentimentality towards the end – The Money Pit does succeed. It’s very funny, from the slapstick physical comedy to the beautiful timing of the actors and the director’s penchant for allowing the reaction’ to dictate the scene. Hanks is on top form and this is certainly one of the best and most enjoyable comedies he’s made.