Jokes about impotence, menopause and other middle-aged maladies reside where a screenplay ought to live in writer-producer-director Nancy Meyers’ slapdash Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton pairing “Something’s Gotta Give.” Recycling crass, stereotypical observations about male-female chemistry that, along with the Mel Gibson catnip factor, endowed Meyers’ “What Women Want” with major B.O. mojo, new pic similarly panders to the very audience (namely: middle-aged women) that it ostensibly empowers. Sans Gibson, pic’s commercial prospects look considerably less virile, though respectable returns should be sustained by adult auds throughout the holiday period.
Harry Sanborn (a particularly disheveled Nicholson), is a record label exec whose predilection for younger femmes precedes him. Really, though, this is Jack playing “Jack,” which is to say playing up all those smirking, “Who, me?” mannerisms that Nicholson puts on for the camera when he’s seated courtside at a Lakers game. His Harry Sanborn is less of a character turn than an extension of this mildly amusing vaudeville routine. It’s also probably the least challenging lead role the actor has had in a late-career resurgence that has seen him do some of his very best work (particularly in “About Schmidt” and the little-seen “The Pledge”).
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Harry’s flame du jour is beautiful Christie’s auctioneer Marin (the effortlessly sexy Amanda Peet), whose mother, Erica Barry (Keaton), is a well-known Broadway playwright — and, judging from her luxurious Hamptons manor, an extremely successful one.
Harry and Marin arrive at the manor for a relaxing weekend getaway, only to discover that Mom and her hippie-feminist sister (Frances McDormand) have already descended on the house. At first, both parties feign embarrassment and offer to leave, with Erica evidencing particular discomfort at the thought of her daughter dating a man of Harry’s age. But eventually, it’s decided that everyone should just stay put. They are, after all, a bunch of mature, intelligent, adult human beings. Aren’t they?
Those might be the makings for a classical French farce and that’s clearly what Meyers — who sets and shoots pic’s finale in Paris and who loads up the soundtrack with lots of Piaf, Trenet and Aznavour — has in mind. It’s a different, distinctly American brand of comedy, however, that “Something’s Gotta Give” brings to mind. Watching its incessant geriatric pratfalls, one thinks of the “Grumpy Old Men” pictures, in which the likes of Jack Lemmon, Ann-Margaret and Sophia Loren were humiliated in the way Nicholson and Keaton are here.
The nature of the shenanigans becomes evident fairly early on. When Harry suffers a heart attack during foreplay, he’s rushed to the hospital and attended to by a young doctor (Keanu Reeves) who takes quite a liking to Erica, whose plays he’s read. As Erica considers some cradle-robbing of her own, Harry shuffles about the hospital with his bare ass protruding prominently from the back of his gown.
When Harry is released, but ordered to stay in the area for observation, he takes up temporary residence as Erica’s not-entirely-welcome guest, while Marin returns to her life in Manhattan. It’s an elaborate set-up for the moment, well-sold in pic’s trailer, where Harry accidentally stumbles upon a nude Erica and both of them begin screaming hysterically. The joke being that Harry’s never seen a woman of Erica’s age in the altogether.
Of course, as the days pass, Harry’s proximity to Erica also leads to the inevitable detente between the heretofore bickering housemates. The movie’s central conceit is that old nugget of psychobabble pseudo-wisdom that says a guy like Harry is an unapologetic skirt-chaser precisely because he’s lonely and insecure and secretly yearning for the very monogamy he seems to fear.
Erica, offered as Meyers’ idea of an independent-minded modern woman, is (much like the women in “What Women Want”) unflatteringly depicted as a sex-starved nag who plays hard to get, but who’s really ready to melt in the hands of any guy who still finds her attractive — be it Jack or Keanu. It’s nothing too progressive, but at least “Something’s Gotta Give” seems prepared, about 90 minutes in, to end on this note, with Harry and Erica “finding” each other.
But then, pic continues for another half-hour, needlessly stretching out its already paper-thin plot with all manner of contrivance (including two more near-heart-attacks for Harry) designed to keep the lovers apart.
In this seemingly endless fascination with the peccadilloes of New York’s obscenely wealthy, “Something’s Gotta Give” bears an at-times uncanny resemblance to the infamous “Town & Country,” which starred an ill-used Keaton alongside Warren Beatty. This time, however, Keaton delivers a luminous, full-bodied star turn that lends pic some much-needed class. Radiantly lit by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus so that she looks her age, but in a way that may make others want to accelerate their own aging processes, Keaton, like Diane Lane in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” creates an emotionally complex character awash in a sea of emotionally vapid material.
When Harry, in once scene, flips through a photo album containing stills of a ’70s-era Keaton/Erica, one realizes this movie with more intelligent scripting and sensitive direction could have been “Whatever Happened to Annie Hall?”
Pic looks great, with Ballhaus, production designer Jon Hutman and costumer Suzanne McCabe vividly capturing the white-linen New York beach community scene. Despite their prominent billing, McDormand and “Elf” director Jon Favreau (playing Harry’s long-suffering assistant) have barely three scenes between them.