The home gatecrasher, the unwelcome guest, and the tenant from hell. These can be used to sum up the story of Duplex, directed by comedian/actor Danny DeVito and featuring the first time pairing of comedians Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore as the husband and wife suburban couple who through an animated opening credit sequence, go through property after property looking for the perfect place to set up their home, which should also double up as a home office for Stiller's Alex Rose, an up and coming writer due to complete his next novel without having to write at Starbucks.
Thanks to their housing agent, they settle for the titular duplex, which seemed like a great idea for their housing plans and one that's within their budget, a good deal even though it comes with a caveat that they cannot throw out the existing tenant, an old lady called Mrs Connelly (Eileen Essell) who stays upstairs and well, pays the rent. But little do they know that their lives would soon turn topsy turvy through the skillful manipulation that senior citizens can be capable of, appealing to good citizenry in wanting to help others, only to be willingly exploited to run errants, and face a crisis of sorts in either wanting to stay put, or leave.
So we go into full gear of the battle between households, where sleep gets interrupted through the elderly lady putting on her TV at full blast, and the couple getting back in tit-for-tat fashion. But it seems that Mrs Connelly is always one step ahead either in the luck department, or having the authorities, Officer Dan (Robert Wisdom) on her side. After all, who would you rather believe - a frail old woman in her twilight years, or a young yuppie couple whose backfiring revenge tactics put them in bad light as discourteous, intolerant people? Oh if only everyone else knew the cunningness of the elderly!
Danny DeVito's film, based on a story by Larry Doyle, however keeps things rather firmly in PG fashion even though the couple's intent move from nice tactics into murderous territory, deciding to employ desperate measures given that they're driven up the wall and with the couple both having their household revenue stream impacted. Both Stiller and Barrymore provide good comic timing especially in their individual scenes (well, someone has to bring home the bacon) when their characters get stuck with "entertaining" the bothersome old lady whose benign requests usually turn out to the contrary.
But the scene stealer would of course be Eileen Essell as Mrs Connelly with her playing both the fragile old Irish lady who is more than meets the eye, a force to be reckoned with beneath the aged exterior, capable of tugging at your conscience and making you feel guilty should you not accede to her gentle pleas, which almost always come laced with sarcasm, or the nitty gritty that makes you feel bad. Convincingly playing her role without which this film would probably have not been able to make us laugh with or at Stiller and Barrymore's characters as they get stuck in their predicament which comes with a predictable twist at the end. It's evil, I know.