The Plumber (1979)

plumber 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He destroys her bathroom.

Jill (Judy Morris) works inside her cramped apartment while her husband (Robert Coleby) goes off each day to teach at a local college. She is an educated woman who spends her time writing a thesis for an anthropology paper, but finds herself at a loss when one day a talkative plumber by the name of Max (Ivar Kants) enters her place insisting he needs to check her pipes. Even though there is nothing wrong with her bathroom he proceeds to tear it up anyways while conversing with her on a wide-range of increasingly uncomfortable topics. Her husband and her best friend Meg (Candy Raymond) feel she is making a big deal out of nothing and find the plumber to be nothing more than slightly eccentric, which makes Jill feel even more powerless to Max’s increasingly odd antics.

This film is an excellent testament to what a great director can do with very little.  What appears on the surface to be a low budget, one-joke flick is instead a cleverly disguised observation of the class system and the underlying prejudices and assumptions that exist on both ends. The story playfully jumps back and forth from being a black comedy to a thriller to even a psychological study, which not only helps to make it quite original, but highly unpredictable as well.

To me the most amusing aspect about it is the way we have this super intelligent, well-educated woman who can write long dissertations involving ancient African cultures, but when it comes to people in her own environment she is at a loss and unable to know how to respond or react to a stranger who on the outside should be completely inferior to her intellectually, but routinely gets the upper hand nonetheless. Having everyone around her ambivalent to her situation simply hits home how disconnected an individual can be to their surrounding even when they think that they aren’t.

Kants gives a great performance by creating a character whose ultimate motivation is never clear. Is he intentionally trying to terrorize her or like with her bathroom just trying to tear her down? He seems to do this not so much for who she is, but for what she represents, which is fighting back at a pretentious society that he feels unfairly looks down on him.

If this film, which is based on an actual incident that occurred with a couple of director Peter Weir’s friends, has any faults it is with the location. The apartment, where the majority of the action takes place, is incredibly cramped to the point that I was surprised a film crew could’ve even fit into it. Weir tries to dress up the place with some interesting African artwork, but it still looks drab and helps to make the visual portion of the film quite boring. Having Jill reside in a ritzy home in the suburbs would’ve made more of an interesting contrast and seeing the plumber tear up her posh bathroom would’ve been even funnier.

The fact that Jill immediately opens the door and lets Max inside without asking for any identification is another issue as it comes off as being too reckless and trusting.  Granted it was made in a more innocent era and the character does expound on this later on, but it is something that will make the film seemed dated or even off-putting to today’s viewers. I was also surprised that it took Jill so long to complain to the apartment’s landlord about the plumber’s antics as most people would’ve gone to him after the very first day.

In either case this is still a highly intriguing film that I’ve seen many times and continue to find just as funny and interesting with each viewing.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Commission

Available: VHS, DVD

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