Newton Davis (Steve Martin) is a struggling architect. After building his dream house for himself and his longtime girlfriend Becky (Dana Delany) in his hometown, he is crushed when she refuses to marry him. He is unable to bring himself to live in the house, and leaves it abandoned and with a debt he cannot afford. Some time later, Newton meets a waitress named Gwen (Goldie Hawn) at a Hungarian restaurant. Believing that she cannot speak English, he spills out his sob story about Becky and the abandoned house. After the restaurant closes for the night, Newton learns she merely pretended to be Hungarian, and can speak English. He walks her home, which turns out to be a few steps away. They end up sleeping together.
The next morning, Gwen finds that Newton left in the middle of the night. However, he unintentionally left behind the drawing of the house he'd built for Becky. Interest piqued by the drawing, Gwen takes a bus ride out to see the house. She is charmed by it, and decides to move in. Gwen goes to the town's general store, where she charges her groceries to the "Newton Davis" account. When questioned about this, Gwen, who it becomes clear is a natural liar, says that she is Newton's wife. Gwen meets Becky, and spins a lengthy romantic story about how they fell in love, which surprises and impresses Becky. Gwen also meets Newton's parents, who are heartbroken that Newton got "married" without telling them, but Gwen manages to smooth things over with them with her charm.
Soon after, Newton travels to his hometown and is shocked to see that his house is lived in. When he finds out what Gwen has done he is initially furious, but he soon sees the potential in her being there. Gwen starts creating all sorts of opportunities for Newton: mending his relationship with his parents, helping out with his career by befriending Newton's boss and highlighting his long-ignored talent, and making Becky jealous. Newton and Gwen come to an agreement in which Gwen will help Newton win Becky, and in return she'll get all the furniture in the house. Through their time together, Newton begins to rely more on Gwen beyond their agreement, and Gwen starts to feel attached to her life with Newton. It is also revealed that Gwen became a compulsive liar in order to escape from what she feels is her own inadequate background, and that she has "changed" her life numerous times.
The film culminates with a reception held at the house in which the sub-plots of Newton's career, family and affections for Becky are brought together. Annoyed with Becky for her superior and suspicious attitude, Gwen confronts her in front of everyone, accusing her of trying to win Newton back. Gwen storms out of the house in tears, and Newton follows her, thinking it is still part of the plan. Outside alone, Newton praises Gwen for her brilliance, but Gwen replies that she wanted their marriage to work. Her feelings for him are apparent. Newton watches, confused, as Gwen leaves. Becky takes the opportunity to make a move on Newton, and asks whether all of Gwen's elaborate stories were real. Newton answers that they were all true and chases after Gwen.
Newton stops Gwen as she is about to board a bus to leave town. Although she resists, Newton follows her example and begins telling an outlandish romantic story of something they "did", which makes Gwen decide to stay. The film ends on the note of Newton and Gwen being happily married and living together in the house. As Newton and Gwen go into the house to have sex, the final spoken words are of Newton saying "I love you, Gwen" and Gwen replying, "Actually, it's Jessica."Steve Martin as Newton Davis
Goldie Hawn as Gwen/Jessica Duncle/Buckley/Phillips
Dana Delany as Becky Metcalf
Julie Harris as Edna Davis
Donald Moffat as George Davis
Peter MacNicol as Marty
Richard B. Shull as Ralph / Bernie Duncle
Ken Cheeseman as Harv
Laurel Cronin as Mary / Mary Duncle
Roy Cooper as Winston Moseby
Christopher Durang as Reverend Lipton
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the house featured in the film was designed by New York architects Trumbull & Associates. Christopher Lukenbeal's 1995 master's thesis A Geography in Film, A Geography of Film cites Debra Wassman of Trumbull: "the house is the real star of the film". Blueprints are available through Princeton Plans Press.
The role of Gwen Phillips was initially offered to Meg Ryan, who pulled out due to creative differences. After Ryan pulled out of the project, the producers wanted Kim Basinger for the role. However, Basinger also declined. As a result, Goldie Hawn was eventually cast as Gwen, a role which many believe could have been 'created for Hawn'.
In one particular scene at her home, Becky, portrayed by actress Dana Delany, is seen wearing a Wesleyan University sweater. The actress Delany studied theater at Wesleyan in real life.
Housesitter received mixed to negative reviews from critics, as it holds a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews. Noted film critic Roger Ebert, gave it three stars saying, "this is one of [Goldie Hawn's] best performances" and praised her and Steve Martin's impeccable comic timing.
The film was released theatrically on June 12, 1992, and performed reasonably well for a low-key comedy film. It earned $9,106,950 on its opening weekend and $58,500,635 for its entire theatrical run, with $94,900,635 worldwide.
The film was released on DVD on July 22, 1998.