Architects in Movies 01 – Indecent Proposal

This is the first in my series of reviews of movies in which the protagonist is an architect. I was struggling with how to judge these movies objectively based on how accurately they depict the profession. I have settled on a model popular with many architecture professors, which goes like this:

  1. Develop a set of categories specific to the project
  2. Rigorously apply numerical rubric based on satisfaction of program, interaction with context and relative strength of the work with respect to precedent set by similar projects
  3. Disregard numbers, assign arbitrary grade

In this way, the grades are equally meaningless for everyone which imparts a kind of perverse fairness.

With that, here are the categories and point values for Indecent Proposal, which was released in 1993 and stars Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson and Billy Bob Thornton. Robert Redford was in it, too. Having fallen on hard times, childhood sweethearts David and Diana Murphy (Harrelson and Moore) travel to Las Vegas to try to win the money to save their dream house only to lose it all. But the enigmatic billionaire John Gage (Redford) makes the Murphys an offer that could solve all of their financial problems: a million dollars for one night with Diana. Can love be bought? Can a marriage hold on against the pull of money? Find out in Indecent Proposal.

  • David designs his dream house without having a site: -750
  • “We never had much money, so for entertainment David would show me architecture that moved him. But sometimes, I’d have to ask, ‘why are we looking at a stupid car wash?'”: +1,000
  • The recession, it’s a bitch: +2,008
  • Number of love scenes in the first 20 minutes of this movie: +2
  • Number of love scenes in the first 20 years of my life: +0
  • Estimated number of dollars “lost” during sex on bed of money: -190
  • David refuses coffee refill. No architect refuses coffee: -1
  • David bets on red when, duh, architects love black: -4,100
  • John proves that craps is a much game better than roulette: +1,000,000
  • Diana’s taste in fashion: -60

IndecentProposal_Fashion01

Fashion so bad even this girl is like “wut”

IndecentProposal_Fashion02

  • David meets a billionaire, doesn’t fish for leads: -1,500
  • Handheld house controls before they were hip: +130
  • Buttons unbuttoned as a metaphor for David’s mental state: +8

IndecentProposal_Buttons

  • Cardboard chairs before they were hip: +90

IndecentProposal_CardboardChair

  • That moment this guy declares “The recession is over!”: +2,009

IndecentProposal_RecessionOver

  • Nostalgia bonus! Real photos: +50
  • Nostalgia bonus! Real models: +200
  • Nostalgia penalty! Device controllers: -300

IndecentProposal_Devices

  • Inspiring Louis Kahn lecture: +2,000
  • David buys a hippo to prove a point: -1,000,000

Total Score: 596

This movie actually does a pretty good job of indicating the activities and pressures of being an architect. However, there are two critical flaws with David and Diana building their dream house, which is the structural crux of the movie. First, anyone who has been to an architect’s house knows that it’s a “shoemaker’s children” kind of situation. It’s probably a disaster area in a constant state of construction, or some kind of weird house the architect will insist has “good bones”. Second, even if an architect would build their dream house, they wouldn’t do it at 25 years old or however old they’re supposed to be. Building your own house as some kind of manifesto about what you love about architecture at 25 is like getting a topical tattoo when you’re 17, except you can’t wear long sleeves over your questionable house. Overall, though, it’s a solid flick that stands up surprisingly well in spite of some cheesy music and awkward ending. Seriously, that hippo reference makes just about as much sense in context as out.

Final Grade: B-

All images from the film are used under fair use for parody and criticism.

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