Something’s Gotta Give
This film earns my award for greatest disappointment for the year; and given that there’s only three weeks left in 2003, it will probably retain the title. Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton turn in terrific performances, bolstered by Francis McDormand and Keanu Reeves; the subject matter hails from great conversational wit; and Nancy Meyers’ ("What Women Want", "Father of the Bride") script is appropriately hysterical at points. In fact, this film probably has more Hollywood muscle behind it than Terminator 3, and yet it’s a lackluster, dispiriting journey whose endearing first hour is dismantled, undermined and ill-served by Meyer’s disturbing need to reduce the conclusion of nearly every film she’s made to trite, neat, emotionally vapid formula.
Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn, a 63-year-old recording industry mogul with a penchant for dating women half his age. Keaton plays Erica Barry, a divorced, highly-successful playwright. When Harry shows up at Erica’s Hamptons beach house for a fling with her daughter (adequately played by Amanda Peet), he suffers a heart attack and is bed-ridden under Erica’s care. Animosity turns to favor as the two get to know each other, then fall in love against their better senses.
The first hour of the film is very, very winsome. It brings on well-written wit combined with the ferocious talents of its two leads as they tiptoe around the subjects of age, loneliness and differing definitions of love. Many of the sequences are so well-played, you believe you’re watching an Academy Award contender, Meyers’ placid direction notwithstanding.
Then the movie takes a vicious turn for the worst. The very moment the picturesque weekend together ends, with pathos shockingly appropriate to the situation and emotions validly underplayed with delicate flair, the script turns horribly maudlin, formulaic and mildewed. Erica, believing herself spurned by Harry, falls in with Reeves’ charming doctor, and Harry spends the rest of the film valiantly trying to win her back. If you imagine the most slushy, sentimental, eminently Hollywood ending to this boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl regurgitation, you’ll have nailed the denouement right to the floor. Brilliantly subdued performances are sabotaged by pronounced wrist-wringing and crying coerced by script rather than motivation, and Keaton and Nicholson evince the demeanor of actors whose confidence have evaporated because they justifiably sense they’re in a different film from whence they began.
Ultimately, the fauly lies with Meyers, who ritualistically subverts her own talents in the third act of most of her films – and why? She is immoderately sentimental, unlearned in her art, or lacking in courage. If it’s the first, she should write poetry, not scripts. If it’s the second, she should study her betters. And the film business – where audiences are tremendously more intelligent than they are perceived – is a destructive, unforgiving business to those without the stamina to stay true to their art despite obstacles of industry, oversight and budget. Hundreds of these puppies roll out each year, with razors for teeth and a fighting instinct to lap up as much of the box office breast milk as they can; this dog is getting eaten alive.