Dan Mirvish returns to feature filmmaking with “Open House,” a gentle musical-comedy about the perils of home-buying and the pleasures of spectatorship that marks the Slamdance co-founder’s first directorial effort since 1994 debut “Omaha: The Movie.” Shot using multiple digital videocameras in a style that occasionally recalls “Dancer in the Dark” and produced for less than the cost of the average two-bedroom starter, paper-thin, self-consciously corny pic seems unlikely to register as more than a footnote in the current revival of musical moviemaking. But winning performances and a clear affection for the genre make for a pleasant enough viewing experience.
Also owing something to the ultra-minimalist song-filled outings of Chantal Akerman (“Window Shopping”) and Jacques Rivette (“Up Down Fragile”), pic unfolds over the course of a single weekend afternoon, mostly inside a newly on-the-market home being represented by an eager-beaver young agent (“Rent” star Anthony Rapp). The house is “fantabulous,” Rapp exclaims in a syncopated, Meredith Wilson-esque opening number, while enumerating its virtues.
Visitors flood in, but as we quickly discover, these “potential buyers” have things other than house-hunting on their minds. For love-struck Debbie (Kellie Martin) and Joel (James Duval), attending open houses supports their fetish of “sexy swiping,” by which they remove an object from one for-sale abode and deposit it in another down the road. (There is, of course, a song on this subject too, done in a jazzy, faux Kander & Ebb style.) Meanwhile, for two cops (Robert Peters, Hedy Burress) having a workplace affair, the open house is an open opportunity for them to make whoopee. And then there’s the bumbling jewel thief (Jerry Doyle) trying to stay one step ahead of those same cops while finding a safe place to stash his loot.
Eventually, everyone crosses paths with each other, and also with a Mimosa-toting vamp of a realtor (Sally Kellerman, having a grand old time) who advises: “In this business, you’re only as good as your last listing.”
“Open House” is very slight stuff, with an occasional habit of elbowing you in the ribs to remind you of what a blast you’re supposed to be having. Yet, it’s all put across in a clumsily charming manner.
While there’s ample evidence here to suggest he shouldn’t give up his day job, Mirvish refuses to take himself seriously — an asset in today’s indie-film landscape — and, almost in spite of himself, pulls off a few genuinely indelible moments. “Sexy swapping” aside, it turns out Debbie and Joel really are searching for their dream home, and it’s when they enact their dreams as a series of role-playing fantasies (in a song, reprised several times, called “Do You Love This House?”) that “Open House” comes alive with naive puppy love and boundless optimism. There’s also a lovely ballad for Kellerman — probably the pic’s best vocalist — entitled “Selling a Dream.”
“House” was shot fast and cheap, and more often than not looks it. However, in a rare and demanding move, all singing was performed and recorded live on the set, eschewing the post-synchronization common to the format.