'Homemakers': Film Review

Ben Powell
Rachel McKeon delivers a galvanizing star turn in this quirky indie.

A punk singer finds herself reexamining her life after she inherits a dilapidated home in Colin Healey's debut feature.

As messy and unstructured as the inner life of its central character, Homemakers boasts an uncommonly ragged indie sensibility in its portrait of a disaffected young woman struggling with issues of self-identity. Boasting a superbly energized lead performance by Rachel McKeon, director-screenwriter Colin Healey’s debut feature at times tries one’s patience and will surely not be for all tastes. But young hipsters in particular — it’s no surprise that the film was recently showcased at Brooklyn’s Northside Festival and Boston’s Independent Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award — may well respond to its quirky rhythms.

McKeon stars as Irene, an emotionally volatile singer in an Austin punk band whose rambunctious and unruly behavior has set her at odds with her fellow musicians. Just as she’s about to be unceremoniously booted from the band, she receives word that she’s inherited a house in Pittsburgh that belonged to her grandfather, who she didn’t even know had recently passed away.

Hightailing it to the Appalachian city, she discovers that the three-level row house, which hasn’t been lived in for a decade, ever since her grandfather entered an assisted living facility, is sorely dilapidated and badly in need of repairs. Intending to sell it for a quick payday, she bonds with her long-lost cousin Cam (Jack Culbertson) in an attempt to fix it up.

Unfortunately, neither of the pair is particularly handy, and their ramshackle efforts, which include creating a “Moon Room” complete with colored lights and mattresses, are frequently hampered by their prodigious consumption of alcohol and drugs, not to mention the vehement protestations of an elderly neighbor. But a funny thing happens to Irene along the way: The previously commitment-phobic wildcat, for whom the word “nesting” is virtually an epithet, slowly begins to embrace the idea of domesticity and settling down in her new home.  

Lacking much in the way of narrative and not quite succeeding as a character study — Irene remains an opaque character throughout, and we learn little of her backstory — Homemakers nonetheless exerts a certain fascination with its spirited atmosphere and often quirky humor, as when Irene and her girlfriend (the film is refreshingly low-key in its depiction of her sexuality) settle down to watch her grandfather’s vintage super 8 porn films.

Adding greatly to the film’s overall effect is Matt Bryan’s eclectic musical score and the superbly detailed production design by Seth Clark and Danielle Laubach, which renders the house in its various transformations as if they had raided countless thrift shops and rummage sales.

Ultimately, however, it’s McKeon’s sexy and endlessly emotionally expressive turn that energizes the proceedings. Clad in her underwear for much of the film’s running time, this talented young actress delivers a soul- and body-baring performance.

Cast: Rachel McKeon, Jack Culbertson, Molly Carlisle, Dan Derks, Sheila McKenna
Director-screenwriter: Colin Healey
Producers: Dave Schachter, Colin Healey, Ella Hatamian
Director of photography: Ben Powell
Production designers: Seth Clark, Danielle Laubach
Costume designer: Christine Casaus
Editor: Dave Schachter
Composer: Matt Bryan

No rating, 85 minutes