Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:33 - Released 2/11/00

While Nora and Delia Ephron, creators of Michael, Sleepless In Seattle, and its clone You've Got Mail, are clearly the reigning chick-flick producers in the business, their most recent effort is suprisingly watchable. Hanging Up, starring Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, and Walter Matthau, and directed by Keaton, is more substantial than would be expected given the Ephron sisters' previous output. It is another journey into the dysfunctional family genre, where three daughters are trying to deal with the impending death of their elderly, formerly abusive, alcoholic father, the indifference of their divorced mother, and the hectic nature of their own lives, not to mention the various tensions that exist between themselves and each other. As would be expected, the script is at times cloying and unconscionably manipulative, but the interaction among these three actresses and Matthau helps immensely to pull it off.

The film skips back and forth between the present, when father Lou (Matthau) is placed in an L.A. hospital for observation after becoming "disoriented," and several different periods in the family's past, when various father-related events molded our three sisters into the women they have become. Georgia (Keaton), the eldest, is the egocentric publisher of a successful women's magazine named after her. Eve (Ryan) is an accident-prone party planner with a husband (Adam Arkin) and son (Jesse James or Ethan Dampf, depending on the time period), whose panicky nature causes her to be the only one to care for Dad — she constantly worries that he'll die. And Maddy (Kudrow), the youngest, is a spoiled soap opera actress who can't get enough respect from her sisters no matter how hard she says she works. They spend most of the film on the phone to each other, with Eve trying to convince the others to come and take part in the caregiving duties, and the others being too busy.

I think what impresses me about this film is not the plot but the simple reality achieved among the four leading players. Keaton was wise not to overdirect Ryan and Matthau; their spontaneous interaction, which comprises more screen time than her own part or Kudrow's, is comfortable and down to earth. Matthau, especially, is convincing as ever in this grumpy old man role, but with more edge and less humor than in his films co-starring Jack Lemmon. One scene, in which he bursts in on his grandson's birthday party in a drunken stupor, is surprisingly real and disturbing. The few scenes where all three women are actually in the same room are well-performed (partially improvised) and cleverly scripted; they serve to delineate clearly the three separate characters. The unfortunate exception is the final scene, which is such a blatant ripoff of Keaton's 1986 three-sister vehicle, Crimes Of The Heart, it's shameful. I've stuffed plenty of turkeys in my life, folks, and I've never had a need for a bowl of flour nearby. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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