As the Oscar nominations were announced, it became apparent that a few of the nominated films had slipped past scene’s watchful, but at the time sleeping, eye during the holiday break. Therefore please join us as we look back to a comedy we missed, “Something’s Gotta Give.”
In the annals of Hollywood cinema, women tend to be either young and beautiful or old, wise and matronly. Even in the ground-breaking film “The Graduate” the older Mrs. Robinson, while appearing quite sexy, is sure of herself and functions as a guide to the young Benjamin. With the entrance of Diane Keaton’s Oscar-nominated Erica into Nancy Meyers’ humorous film “Something’s Gotta Give” a more realistic middle-aged woman appears. This woman is tormented by doubt, unsure of herself and, incidentally and accidently, sexy. Faced with such an interesting cocktail of a heroine, Meyers doesn’t know exactly what to do with her, following a masterful first act set in a Hamptons beach house with a grossly inferior second that tries to jam Erica back into the romantic-comic mold, expelling all originality in the process.
Jack Nicholson begins the film in a familiar position: on the arm of a young beauty in a great car. With all of his About Schmittiness entirely expunged, he is his confident old self. It is comforting to see that no matter how old Nicholson gets he still manages to play the same role over and over again, acting with one hand while watching himself from the audience with a daiquiri in the other. Here he looks especially smirky as Harry Sanborn, who arrives with his gorgeous girlfriend (Amanda Peet) at her beach house for a weekend of fun in the sun. Peet gleefully takes to her role as the world’s most perfect young woman, twirling around the house with the light energy of a ballet dancer at the beginning of a performance. When Erica, her mother, shows up unexpectedly, the contrast can’t be any clearer. Keaton’s energy is scattered — she is unsure of her body, hiding it under turtlenecks, and unsure of her role as a divorced wife, lashing out to protect herself. Harry and Erica immediately are at odds, as each represents what the other is afraid of. Added to this mix is a young doctor played by Keanu Reeves who is pursuing Erica. Surprisingly, Reeves gives an altogether decent performance showing a level of warmth that could have saved “The Matrix.”
However, the real honors go to Keaton and Nicholson. Both actors go beyond forced politeness to convey a real sense of disdain that isn’t exaggerated. This tempers the humor of Meyers’ script somewhat but raises the movie to a level of much greater interest. While it may appear that breezy Harry has none of Erica’s personality problems, his tough well-trained facade hides a vulnerability just as great. By the time unforeseen circumstances force the two to stay alone together in the beach house, it is almost impossible to look away. Harry is slowly drawn to Erica as he begins to come to terms with his age, courting her with e-mails from the next room and walks on the beach. Erica in turn begins to look at herself with more respect and shed the tough exterior and, ultimately, the turtlenecks. Keaton performs without any visible makeup, fearlessly showing off her true age. As she becomes more and more luminous, blossoming into a person that anyone, old or young, can love, her age ceases to matter. She fascinates Harry, who tries to understand Erica’s rebirth as she coaxes him slowly towards his.
Every conversation in their alone scenes rings true, as line after line deals with fears of death, aging and loneliness. While the ultimate sex scene may be totally creepy for anyone under the age of 50 — to quote Harry, “To think I had sex three days after a heart attack and didn’t die!” — Meyers is really challenging Hollywood in a way unseen since “On Golden Pond.”
Sadly, the film does not end here, and Meyers, possibly frightened by the harsh realism of her subject matter, retreats into typical “When Harry met Sally,” “French Kiss,” every-schmaltzy-romance-ever-made mode. Each independent idea from the first half wilts under the assault of convention. Nicholson does not struggle against this even when he is forced near the end to cry and say “Look who gets to be the girl,” but Keaton fights with all her might, trying to keep Erica believable. She almost manages it, but the ending in Parisian snow throws the film completely over the curb into the mud of sentimentality. Ultimately, the first half is as good as it gets.
Note: Students bringing parents to this film may be embarrassed by a revealing sex scene involving, among other things, a blood pressure cuff.
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