Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:57 - Released 12/12/03

A few years ago, Diane Keaton paired up with her ex-leading man from Reds, Warren Beatty, in Town & Country. Now she’s reunited with her other Reds lover, Jack Nicholson, in Something’s Gotta Give. If only either of these movies had one tenth the substance of that 1981 film… but, alas, this is a different age, and, come to think of it, so are they. That may sound like a cheap shot—I only mention age because it’s such an important aspect of this film’s theme. What this movie intends to prove is that people over 50 can have romantic, fulfilling sexual relationships without seeking partners 20 years their junior, and that older people who are single need not assume they’ve had the last taste of passion in their lives. In the scenes where these two leads are at their best, Nicholson (66) and Keaton (57) show that with resounding success. But there are some aspects of the script (written by chick flick maven Nancy Meyers, who also directed) that are so hackneyed they undercut the success of the message. Meyers, herself in her 50s, has written and/or produced many uterine-fueled romantic comedies like Private Benjamin, Baby Boom, I Love Trouble, and two Father Of The Brides, but only directed two (1998’s Disney remake of The Parent Trap and the smarmy 2000 Mel Gibson vehicle What Women Want), and it seems her screenplay is sometimes not as mature as the characters in it.

Nicholson plays 63-year-old New York record producer Harry Sanborn, whose penchant for women half his age (he claims never to have dated anyone over 30) has made him so well-known he had an article written about him in New York magazine. When Harry and his current bouncy bed partner Marin (Amanda Peet) arrive at her mother’s elegant house in the Hamptons, they think no one’s home, because her mom, noted playwright Erica Barry (Keaton), was scheduled to be out for the weekend. But Erica’s plans changed, so when she arrives home from the grocery with her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand, excellent but criminally underused) and discover him in a bathrobe raiding the fridge, they think he’s a burglar. Soon all is explained, however, and although Erica doesn’t approve of her daughter’s choice in lovers, she grudgingly accepts the situation. But everything changes when the two lovers attempt their first sexual liaison and he has a heart attack. After a few days in the hospital, he is ordered by his doctor, the young and attractive Julian (Keanu Reeves), to stay put somewhere local for a week. Over her mother’s protestations, Marin suggests that he stay at Erica’s house, since he knows no one else in the area. The strained relationship becomes more strained when he sees Erica in the nude, but the couple soon sense they have more in common than they first realized. Meanwhile Dr. Julian, who has admired Erica for ages and seen all her plays, tries to establish a relationship with her despite the fact that she’s old enough to be his mother.

I have loved Jack and Diane in so many things I’ve seen them in, I hate to admit I don’t love them in this. While Nicholson’s technique is above reproach, one has to admit he’s playing the same character he’s played a million times—the bad-boy bachelor with the witty comments seems to be the one he conjures up when the script doesn’t provide him with anything more interesting. Keaton, on the other hand, is a frustrating paradox. While she is amazingly good at making dialogue look spontaneous, she has a distracted quality that makes you wonder if she’s forgotten her lines or if she’s doing that on purpose. Moreover, she has an uncanny ability to waver between laughter and tears; this is exquisite when it’s done subtly, but there’s one scene where it’s so overblown it becomes a device—and a seriously annoying one—like watching her do a bad Lucille Ball impression, bursting into fake tears every few seconds. On the other hand, she’s very successful at being attractive and desirable despite the obvious attempts at making her character look old. Her wrinkles and lack of makeup are a negligible stumbling block, especially in one highly charged scene where her spontaneous technique proves amazingly real, and amazingly sexy.

Among the supporting cast, Peet and Reeves are both suitably attractive and charming, which is really their only requirement. This is the best work I’ve seen from Reeves since Parenthood; his line delivery is still sometimes gut-wrenchingly high-schoolish, but I like him so much better as a real person than an action hero. McDormand is so good she has us wishing for more. It’s a puzzle why she’s even in this film—Meyers could have given her tiny part to anyone. Perhaps the director realized that 2 hours is already too long for a film like this and was forced to clip out much of McDormand’s work.

Although it is a romantic comedy’s job to make the predictable unpredictable, I felt Meyers’s screenplay goes a little too far, chasing our love triangle through ups, downs, Paris, a Broadway musical, and a 6-month timeline, with numerous twists and turns intended to keep us guessing. What starts off as a simple unlikely love affair turns into an increasingly unbelievable goose chase, but the performances of the two leads do a lot to counteract the credibility problems suffered by their director. ***½

Copyright 2003 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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