Burning Down the House centers on Maggie's visit from her pathologically suburbanized mother, Jane O'Connell. Jane surprises Maggie with the news that she is ending her 32 year marriage to Maggie's father, GM executive Frank O'Connell. She burns down Maggie's house in both the literal and figurative sense, first by accidentally leaving a towel to catch fire on a space heater, and also by torching Maggie's idea of the tight knit suburban household that she had grown up in and rebelled against.
An ingenious bit of comedic dialogue happens as Jane describes her faltering marriage:
-Jane: Your father and I haven't slept together in six and a half years.
-Jane: Well, there was that one night after the GM testimonial, but we'd had quite a bit to drink.
-Maggie: I can't believe I'm hearing this. l- I don't want to hear this. I mean, I can't believe you're SAYING this.
-Jane: And even when the sex was nice, it wasn't THAT nice. I mean, you know how Frank is. Methodical, wooden. Whatever creativity he had went into the hatchback.
Chris finds himself on the horns of an artistic crisis when he finds out that his performance art idea of hurling a cow with a medieval trebuchet had already been done in a movie. He gets his artistic inspiration back when he decides to turn the ashes of Maggie's devastation into a creation of his own.
Joel's cabin is protected from fire when the local chimney sweep, whom Joel believes to be a washed-up former pro golfer, cleans his chimney.
The unsung stars of Burning Down the House were the set-building crew, who not only built a duplicate frame house of Maggie's house to be burned in the house fire scene, but also constructed a functioning 40 ft. tall medieval trebuchet (catapult).
Chris's ultimate fling scene was original and truly remarkable.