When a free-spirited, shambolic, punky young woman named Irene inherits a run-down empty house in Pittsburgh, will it be another thing she destroys in the name of edginess, or will she settle down and adopt a new, more stable identity?
This tension forms the heart of writer-director Colin Healey's debut feature comedy, Homemakers, making its Pittsburgh premiere Fri., Nov. 7, at the Three Rivers Film Festival. Healey, originally from "a little maple-syrup town in western Massachusetts," moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, and immediately found inspiration
Speaking on the phone from his current home in New York, Healey explains, "I fell in love with the city visually. ... It's amazing to see a city constructed of hills and houses, hills and houses. Every hill and street has these nooks and crannies; the houses are patchwork, like collage. And so many of the houses are empty. A picture of Pittsburgh is full of stories, because of that tension: Who was in this house, where did they go, who did they leave behind, and are they coming back?"
From this fascination came Homemakers, shot in Pittsburgh (primarily Bloomfield), during the summer of 2012. Healey used a number of local actors, including Rachel McKeon as Irene, and as well as Jack Culbertson, Harry O'Toole and Sheila McKenna. (The messed-up house Irene moves into came courtesy of Steve Frankowski, of the nearby Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, with the stipulation that, after filming, the art department helped him gut it.)
Healey says he strove to explore how creative people (or people who need to present as creative) struggle with maintaining that identity when given the opportunity to become more settled. "I was also interested in breaking down the hipster trope of the ‘manic pixie dream girl punk singer' idea. In the first third of the movie, Irene is embodying that, and you wonder if the movie — and she — really believes in that
"But as hipsterdom gets older, what starts as the ironic appropriation of cheap beer and homemaking [changes] when you get the opportunity to decide — like Irene — whether to earnestly like these things. And that line was really interesting."
Homemakers premiered at the Independent Film Festival at Boston, where it won the audience award, and Healey has several other festival screenings lined up. He'll return to Pittsburgh, with actress McKeon, for the Friday screening, and will do a Q&A after the film. Perhaps he'll elaborate on how Pittsburgh is so uniquely awesome that it may well resist gentrification.
"I think it's easy for an outsider to see what's special about Pittsburgh," Healey says, "and that's really what I wanted to capture in the movie. Pittsburgh is totally weird and back-alley, this intersection of the Midwest, Appalachia and Northeast — it's amazing. And until the city buys into that weirdness, it's never gonna blow up."