Something’s Gotta Give

Rating:

Irony thy name is Jack

Main Cast: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Frances McDormand

Director: Nancy Meyer

Jack Nicholson has been living in the public eye for well over thirty years. As one of Hollywood’s more celebrated bad boy bachelors, he’s attained not only a sterling reputation as an actor but also a slightly more tarnished one as a man who dates women decades his junior and lives the high life. Lets face it; a lot of actors have public reputations that have little or nothing to do with the stellar work they produce. In a sparkling twist of irony, Nicholson not only acknowledges his own life, but does so with a wink and a nudge and a hearty does of self-mockery in Nancy Meyer’s Something’s Gotta Give.

Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn. Harry is something of a famous (or infamous) bachelor in and around New York City. He never, even at age 63, dates women over thirty. His latest fling is with Marin Barry (Amanda Peet), daughter of the playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton). When Marin and Harry travel to Erica’s house in the Hamptons for the weekend, they are surprised (to put it mildly) by the appearance of Erica and her sister Zoe (Frances MacDormand). After the foursome awkwardly agrees that they’re all adults and should all stay for the weekend, they awkwardly proceed to do so. Erica is clearly unhappy with her daughter’s taste in men, while Zoe, a professor of Women’s Studies, is fascinated to find herself face to face with the societal stereotypes of unmarried older man and unmarried older woman. She proceeds to discourse at some length on the fact that Erica is withering on the vine while Harry is held up as an icon of masculinity. All are appropriately mortified.

Following dinner, Erica is surprised to hear her daughter calling out in alarm. Seems good old Harry has gone and had himself a heart attack. He’ll live, but under doctor’s (Keanu Reeves – how’s that for a stretch of credibility) orders, will be doing so at Erica’s house for a while. It doesn’t take a genius to see where the story is headed here, but formulas exist in large part because they work, and here it works wonderfully.

While Nicholson receives top billing in Something’s Gotta Give, this is a story as much about Erica as about Harry, if not more. Erica is divorced, successful, a little neurotic and for the most part seems satisfied with her life. She remains friendly with her ex-husband (Paul Michael Glaser); in fact he directs all her plays. She’s completely thrown off guard when handsome Julian the doctor shows an unmasked attraction toward her. She has absolutely no idea what to do with this attention. She hates Harry. Well, she wants to hate Harry. She sees him as entirely inappropriate for her daughter and he just bugs her with his disdain for “women her age”. Of course things change and Erica opening her heart and allowing herself to feel and experience things she thought were over for her is one of the most touching and well scripted and acted parts of the film. Keaton plays Erica beautifully. With an undercurrent of loneliness and self-doubt, she’s nonetheless funny and smart. Her ability to do physical comedy is a good match for Nicholson, the two of them making a funny, and touching, and sometimes heartbreaking pair. She has a scene involving prolonged sobbing that is equal parts poignant and hilarious. She looks great, but she also looks like a grown woman, with wrinkles and imperfections that only make her more appealing.

Harry provides much of the humor in this romantic comedy. The fascinating thing about Nicholson is that as he’s aged, he’s refused to resist. He isn’t surgeried to the hilt, he wears no toupee, he’s a bit thick around the middle. Instead of trying to hide behind make up and clever camera work, he lets it all hang out (literally in one hilarious scene in the hospital) – reveling in playing aging men facing various crises in their lives. Unlike his character in About Schmidt, Nicholson’s Harry is fun and games – using his aging self as a foil again and again. He seems perfectly comfortable in his own skin, and perfectly at ease playing a caricature of his own public persona. As Harry comes to terms with life after a major illness, and with the life he’s led to this point, he is at turns charming, infuriating, touching and terribly funny. Nicholson’s ease in front of the camera is, as always, absolutely amazing, leaving him to make Harry into a complicated guy. You love him, you loathe him, you root for and against him. But he’s never boring.

Peet is a solid actress – very pretty with incredibly white teeth. Her Marin is a nice, typical twenty-something a little adrift in the big world. She loves her parents and is learning how to relate to them as an adult. Her relationship with Harry is never played as some sort of rebellion against her mother, which makes him seem less yucky and her infinitely more likeable. Frances MacDormand shines in every scene in which she appears. Those are, unfortunately, few and far between, but she makes the most of what she’s given. She has a great ability to set the tone of a scene with facial expression, and she uses that very well. In a scene where the women are all looking at the handsome Julian with stars in their eyes (except Erica, of course), MacDormand pulls out a lash batting facial expression that is simply priceless.

And then we have Keanu. Oh, Keanu, you are the epitome of the Hollywood dream. I mean, if you can make it – anyone can, right? I’d love to say that he has some sort of break through, savant-like acting experience in Something’s Gotta Give, but it just isn’t so. He’s just as wooden and one note as ever. But he’s still nice to look at and his performance is never actively offensive. Perhaps because he always plays every role with the same lack of intonation, the same facial expression, the same everything, we’ve all simply come to accept him for that. If he were to try and actually emote or something, I’m afraid the result would be simply disastrous. Thankfully he plays by Keanu rules here and is decent enough.

The movie has some really nice exterior camera work in both the Hamptons scenes and some scenes in Paris. Harry and Erica in their white and neutral clothes walking down the beach is lovely, and the look is right for both the characters and the moment. There is one scene in particular of Paris after dark that is absolutely glorious – whether it’s actually Paris, I have no idea, but it looks great. There is one funny editing glitch in which Nicholson is eating a magically growing and shrinking ice cream cone as the camera cuts back and forth, but it’s more cute than annoying. Cinematographer Michael Ballhouse doesn’t shy away from showing his leads as they are. There’s no ultra soft lighting for Keaton, no slimming all-black for Nicholson. These are people who are actually over the age of twenty-five and they aren’t afraid to show that. Not that they don’t throw in a shot or two of Peet in her undies as eye candy, but the principals wear their age and experience, and they wear it well. This is a movie about adults, something that doesn’t come around all that often and should be celebrated when it does.

Overall, Meyers has put together one truly funny and touching romantic comedy. The story is absolutely transparent, but that’s really beside the point. It’s in the getting from point A to point B where the fun lies. Keaton and Nicholson get the most out of these roles, sharing a delightful chemistry on-screen that is rare indeed. Both put in wonderfully funny, heartfelt performances. Even Keanu the wooden boy can’t bring this one too far down. A strong recommendation for those who want to see a romance for grown-ups.

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