Something's Gotta Give
December 10th, 2003
Diane Keaton gives a wonderful and satisfying performance in "Something's Gotta Give." So does Jack Nicholson. But onscreen together, the two titans share little chemistry between them, resulting in a film that doesn’t have the romantic sparks it desires or the laughs it deserves. When Keaton has better interplay with Keanu Reeves than “The Jack,” you know writer/director Nancy Meyers screwed something up.
Harry Langer (Nicholson, coasting big time) is a rich, 63 year-old bachelor who loves the company of younger women. When one of his latest paramours (Amanda Peet) takes him to her mother’s beach house for a weekend of sex, Harry has a mild heart attack, leaving him in the care of the mother, successful playwright Erica Barry (Keaton). Harry and Erica do not see eye to eye on relationships, but in Erica’s company, Harry begins to see the appeal of women his own age. At the very same time, Harry’s 36 year-old doctor (Keanu Reeves, charming in a way “The Matrix” films wouldn’t allow) makes a play for Erica, while Harry attempts to seduce her with his own fading charms. Erica, caught in the middle, is aghast at all the attention placed on her. But once she accepts her situation, she opens up an emotional reservoir within that affects her more deeply than anything has in years.
Three cheers all around for writer/director Nancy Meyers for attempting to buck the system a little bit and maker her object of desire a 57 year-old woman. You just don’t see that enough these days, making “Something’s Gotta Give” a noteworthy film for its graceful handling of sexuality and maturity. It’s just a shame that’s all Meyers handles with grace, because “Gotta” is a film so ripe with possibilities that its juices flow from the very first bite, but once you eat down to the core, you discover the fruit has been rotten all along.
Maybe it’s because Meyers is so proud of her screenwriting accomplishment that her film eventually fails. She certainly pats herself on the back enough with Erica being a character not only desired by everyone, but also the most successful, intelligent, and carefully lit in any room she enters. Meyers has a fondness for writing strong female characters (“Baby Boom,” “Private Benjamin“), but often these creations defy reality with their obscenely lavish lifestyles and absence of genuine moral quandaries. Erica is yet another upper class Hampton creation from Meyer, leaving sympathy for her romantic exploits threadbare at the very least. For whatever reason, Meyers always writes her characters very rich and very New Yorkian, with “Gotta” showing serious signs of this formula in its final stages of life. The core idea of Erica’s battle with herself and the two men after her is a wonderful, welcome change of pace. After years of seeing older male actors paired up with young female co-stars, this story needs to be told. Meyers is just not the filmmaker suited for filming her own script. After all, this is the same woman who decided that peaking her last comedy, “What Women Want,” with an attempted suicide scene would be a good idea. It wasn’t. And on “Gotta,” she believes comedy comes from cutting to Nicholson’s naked ass three times in one scene. It doesn’t. Hey, I thought this was a film for adults?
“Gotta” gives Diane Keaton her best role in years, possibly decades, and she takes the opportunity to develop a rich connection with the camera and her co-stars very seriously. Erica isn’t the most complex creature, but Keaton is willing to shed some vanity (there is a nude scene) in return for being the center of attention. Keaton’s acting is as good as it’s ever been, especially when you can clearly see Meyer’s screenwriting holding Keaton back from a more deft realization of Erica. The wrinkle in the fabric is co-star Jack Nicholson. Keaton and Nicholson are wonderful performers on their own, but paired up in the film, they lack the chemistry that should be integral to the picture. Watch a scene such as Erica and Harry strolling down a beach, improvisationally chatting away, and the film stops cold. “Gotta” hinges on the fact that these two characters are meant to be together, but the actors just can’t quite sell the notion themselves. Jack acts like “Jack,” in full eyebrow mode, but he can’t muster the warmth and desire with Keaton like he can with himself. And Keaton has much better chemistry with co-star Keanu Reeves than she does with Nicholson. “Gotta” loses its structure about 45 minutes in. It then becomes a kind of theatrical, one-act play examining the romance growing between Erica and Harry. Without the sparks, “Gotta” begins to show its labored mechanics and formulaic screenwriting towards the end, at the very point the audience should be chomping at the bit for these two to realize their destiny.
It may be a long-time-in-coming turn of the tables against typical Hollywood romantic relationships, but “Something’s Gotta Give” loses all sense of reality by the time the climax pokes its head up. Meyers is a slave to convention, which would be the only explanation for the final events in the film to play out as they do. “Gotta” is perfect for Diane Keaton purists and those who don’t see many romantic comedies in their lifetime. But as a truly challenging, warm, hilarious confection? It’s a bicycle built for two and only one wheel to work with.
My rating: C