Magnolia Pictures // 2006 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // September 7th, 2007
I sell homes to minorities.
With real estate-themed reality shows garnering huge numbers on cable -- and with news about the distressed home mortgage market sweeping the headlines -- it's hard to imagine a better time for a film that lampoons the real estate industry. Enter Closing Escrow, a tiny, independently-produced improvisational comedy about three couples in search of their dream homes. The first feature from directors Armen Kaprelian and Kent Llewellyn, Escrow is a pleasant surprise. Real estate agents and their often tiresome clientele may not get quite as sound a spanking here as they deserve, but that doesn't make this mock-doc any less funny.
Kaprelian and Llewellyn know this territory all too well, having both served as producers of HGTV's insanely popular House Hunters. Escrow follows that show's blueprint more or less, and if it misses a few targets ripe for satire (ubiquitous host Suzanne Whang's cheerfully useless commentary, for instance), it hits the bull's eye elsewhere, particularly in the way it nails the details. What is it about our fascination with granite countertops? And why are we compelled to touch every knickknack and turn on every faucet in someone else's house?
Escrow could easily have played to too narrow an audience by bogging itself down in real estate jargon and minutia, but Kaprelian and Llewellyn have wisely cast their nets wider. By being less about the process of house-hunting and more about the sparks that fly when combustible personalities collide, the film should win over even viewers who have never suffered through the headaches of closing on a home. That it also happens to send up those banal (and infuriatingly addictive) HGTV programs is a bonus.
The film will do little to dispel the industry's not entirely unwarranted reputation for double-talk and cut-throat dealing (seriously, next to used-car salesman, is any profession regarded with greater disdain?), but at least it plays fair by depicting homebuyers who are as rabid as their agents. One agent who "helpfully" tries to lower the value of a home using a chainsaw is pitted against a client whose people skills are inspired by Fatal Attraction. The film even has the audacity to portray one of the agents as (gasp!) competent.
The cast of talented unknowns shines, proving you don't have to be Christopher Guest to round up a first-rate comedy ensemble. Each actor shows a gift for making even the most repellant personality traits somehow endearing, but Reno 911!'s Wendi McLendon-Covey, as a clueless agent prone to racial slurs and condescending asides ("Yes, the water goes on and off just like in every house I've shown you"), and Patty Wortham, as a creepy client who nabbed her husband by setting fire to his yard while belting out "The Water is Wide," get the most mileage out of their characters. Of course, it helps that they have the juiciest material on which to chew. Wortham also figures in the film's hilarious final shot without ever stepping in front of the camera.
Destined to become a popular highlight at real estate conventions across the country, the sly, funny, and good-hearted Closing Escrow is an absolute winner.
Magnolia Home Entertainment gives Closing Escrow a very nice DVD debut. The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 format, enhanced for widescreen televisions. Audio options are Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 2.0. For a low-budget mock-doc, the picture is clean, with only the occasional focus issues you'd expect in a documentary-style film. The audio track, while nothing special, is clear and easy to listen to. Spanish subtitles included.
In addition to a few minutes of rough behind-the-scenes footage, the package includes 15 minutes of deleted scenes that, for a change, are actually worth watching. The funniest highlights are Andrew Friedman fawning over the anonymous death threats and love letters sent by his stalking, soon-to-be wife to woo him, and cherub-faced Colleen Crabtree demonstrating how to make tacky Cajun snow globes using mason jars, Mardi Gras beads, and plastic shrimp.
At a brief six-and-a-half minutes, the "Making of Closing Escrow" gives the cast just enough time to talk about the freedom of doing improvisational comedy, and for Kaprelian to discuss his filmmaking philosophy. Actor Ryan Smith admits to breaking Kaprelian's no-cussing rule by dropping an F-bomb during rehearsals. Take that, Glengarry Glen Ross.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* "Making of Closing Escrow"
* Deleted Scenes
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
* Official Site