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Housesitter

Directed by Frank Oz. Starring Steve Martin, Goldie Hawn, Dana Delany, Julie Harris, Donald Moffat, Peter MacNicol, Christopher Durang, Heywood Hale Broun.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 12, 1992

David Letterman thinks he deserves a piece of the royalty action from this movie. It's not hard to understand why. Think about the premise: an off-balanced young woman moves into some poor guy's house and pretends to be his wife. And much like Letterman's real life experiences with his trespasser, Housesitter can hardly be termed a comedy. The situation just isn't funny. Clearly, this project was aiming for a classic type of screwball humor in which a preposterous situation is made ticklish due to its wit, alacrity and ensemble grace. Housesitter's view of marriage and the world has more in common with the co-dependent snipers essayed in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than any single screwball comedy that comes to mind. With its less than generous opinion of humanity, Housesitter presents its characters as bickering bundles of familial hostilities. When they're not squabbling, they're fabricating fantastic lies and tall tales. The moral seems to be that when you find someone you can really fight with, you should make that person your spouse. Make it solid, make it legal, make it forever. There's much ugliness contained in Housesitter, though I'm finding it hard to name the precise sins. The problem is more the overall tone: unpleasant, divisive, snarling and deceptive. To be fair, I must tell you that the packed audience I saw this movie with seemed to like it okay. They laughed when they were supposed to, that knowing kind of laugh like when they recognized a familiar marital spat about to unfold. Martin's entire film career has been kind of hit or miss and this time out he's instantly forgettable, Hawn performs her patented version of cute and bubbly, Emmy-award-winning Delaney is utterly wasted in a cookie-cutter role and Tony award-winning Harris looks like she just stopped in to pick up her paycheck. This is Martin's third film with director Oz (Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and all I can ask is why. True, Letterman may have been robbed of his unique personal travails, but he's best advised to remain disassociated.
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