Diane Keaton's acting career will probably be defined by two collaborations: one with former lover Woody Allen and one with writer-director Nancy Meyers. Say what you will about Allen, he always seemed to know something about Keaton that most other directors didn't and almost always tapped into her scatterbrained intelligence and vulnerability. He was, after all, the only one to coax an Oscar-winning performance out of her, in Annie Hall, as well as commendable work in Sleeper, Love and Death, Manhattan and others. When Annie Hall sing-songs her "La di-da, la di-da, la di-da," her eyes darting everywhere but at the truth, she expressed all the self-doubt a "modern" woman could express.
Meyers, on the other hand, has spent her career making pleasant if immensely superficial films featuring women in leading or strongly supporting roles: Private Benjamin (her Oscar-nominated screenwriting debut), Irreconcilable Differences, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride (I and II) -- the latter three with Keaton.
Guess who'd win that artistic custody battle?
Which is why, sitting through Something's Gotta Give, I couldn't help but wonder what might have happened if a golden-era Allen had been in charge instead of Meyers. As it is, Something's Gotta Give has little to give, beyond some Dr. Phil pronouncements about relationships and a few moments of slapstick fun, particularly from Nicholson. As one might expect from Meyers, there's not only an unrelenting lack of sophistication but also a modicum of laughs.
Maybe part of the fault lies in the fact that the novelty of the film seems to be the character played by Jack Nicholson, who along with buddies Warren Beatty and Robert Evans (and in spite of his long relationship with peer Anjelica Huston) became one of the horn-dogs in Hollywood history. These three amigos made a habit of bedding every starlet they could find, and while Beatty and Evans seem to have tapered off in recent decades, Nicholson's persona seems more or less intact (see Lara Flynn Boyle, supermodel Winnie Hollman). The notion, then, is that Nicholson is essentially playing himself as a cradle-robbing record-label magnate -- until he considers trading in his twentysomething trophy date (Amanda Peet) for her mom (Keaton).
Middle-age people inevitably having so much to talk about, they do in fact fall for each other, the only question then being whether both of them can deal with it -- love making fools of us all being the one undeniable Hollywood narrative truism.
"I'm an old dog," Nicholson's Harry tells Keaton's Erica, who's as isolated as Harry is promiscuous. True that. So, as is so often the case with narration and relationships, the challenge is to keep things interesting after the orgasm. And Meyers, pardon any puns, just doesn't seem up to it, even if Nicholson and Keaton do their best at forging some kind of chemistry.
Though she made her reputation in Hollywood first as a screenwriter, Meyers can't seem to find her groove here in any particular area. In coloring two middle-age lovers, Meyers can barely find the stories to pack into her characters' lives. Where are all the pearls of wisdom, the funny anecdotes, the idiosyncrasies? For Erica, all Meyers seems capable of providing is a passion for all things white, tan and beige -- her East Hampton cottage has all the interior charm of a Pottery Barn catalogue. Erica collects white rocks on the beach, and Harry spices up her life by tossing in a darker-hued stone or two.
Harry is no more than a man enduring a midlife crisis at 63. Sorry, Bill Murray got there first, and much better, in Lost in Translation. Nicholson seems more comfortable at slapstick than he does at introspection, which he defines by speaking in a low grumble. By contrast, all of Keaton's ticks -- the looks askance, the nervous laugh, the "yeah, right" -- feel as old as they are. That they manage a poignant moment or two together is a minor miracle.
Equally curious is Meyers' bizarre treatment (or lack thereof) of her supporting characters. Keanu Reeves dutifully comes and goes as a potential third point on the love triangle, a young hunky doctor who seems to be the only one who "gets" Erica (why she'd drop him for Jack is anybody's guess). But Meyers sketches Frances McDormand as Erica's feminist sister and Jon Favreau as Harry's personal assistant with a twig and mud; they make grand first-act entrances and then disappear until the very end.
As for plot, do you really care? We know in this world of cookie-cutter plots, people who seem mismatched at the beginning wind up together at the end. And just as if a gun is introduced in the first act it will surely be used in the third, if a character mentions Paris in the first act, we'll surely see the Eiffel Tower in the third.
Woody, we could use some serious neurosis here. Where are you when we really need you?
- Beached wails: Harry (Jack Nicholson) and Erica (Diane Keaton) trade war stories of middle age in the romantic comedy Somethings Gotta Give i>.