Quick Stop Entertainment (US), August 27, 2008

Spirit of Johnny and Sammy

Jeffrey Wells

I've had a fairly agreeable reaction to the recently-up trailer for Nancy Meyers' SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE (Columbia, December 12). It's clearly going to be a slick, broadly funny, right-down-the-middle chick flick. Sexual mores, what schmucks guys can be, uncovering the heart, etc. Laura Bush will probably love it and recommend it to her friends, but it seems inviting anyway. That's because the dialogue sounds snappy and Michael Ballhaus's photography looks rich and creamy and perfectly lit. (The trailer doesn't tell us this, but I also feel good about Meyers using editor Ron Hutshing, who did the beautiful cutting on Oliver Stone's JFK and the last three Cameron Crowe films.)

Like Myers' Mel Gibson movie WHAT WOMEN WANT, this new one is about the reformation of a sexist cad, played in the new film (gloriously, it would appear) by Jack Nicholson in his Garrett Breedlove horndog mode. Sight unseen, any movie that lets Nicholson be his own incorrigible self gets my vote.

The trailer's on the Sony site and the IMDB. You can read the arc ten seconds in. Nicholson is a rich 60ish womanizer who's having an affair with Amanda Peet, and through this relationship happens to meet her mom, played by Diane Keaton. This sets the stage for Nicholson to needle and agitate Keaton (at first) but then to gradually fall for her and thereby "grow up" -- a euphemism in this instance for accepting his own age and the joys of middle-aged love and companionship, as opposed to the shallow highs of young flesh and a transporting bouquet.

Keanu Reeves plays a doctor with the randies for Keaton. As Keaton's sister (presumably -- she has the same last name), Frances McDormand seemingly plays one of those Thelma Ritter-type characters who's there for the lead character to bounce ideas and reactions against. GIVE looks and sounds so predictable it's almost like I've seen it already, but who goes to a Nancy Meyers movie for surprises?

I have just two quibbles, but they're not small.

One is Meyers' decision to use Johnny Mercer's "Something's Gotta Give," a schmaltzy 1955 tune performed by Sammis Davis, Jr., as a way of sketching out the mood and attitude. (She did the same thing in WHAT WOMEN WANT with a couple of loudly-played Frank Sinatra cuts.) Why does she feel the need to beat us up with her Pleistocene-era taste in music? Using "Something's Gotta Give" acknowledges that while the plot of the Nicholson film may be set in the here-and-now, it's rooted in sexual attitudes that pre-date the Vietnam War. (I'm thinking more Kennedy than Eisenhower, as most of us associate Davis's voice with the early '60s Rat Pack.)

Marketing-wise, this is a way of assuring the over-45's it's going to be a nice safe ride, even if the Mercer song suggests that in its heart-of-hearts, SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE is probably going to be a bit too padded for comfort. I got the distinct psychic feeling it doesn't want to go anywhere near the deadpan perversity of, say, MEET THE PARENTS. (It helps to keep in mind that underneath all Nancy Meyers movies is a worship of swanky homes and great-looking furnishings -- shiny copper pots, beautiful wooden chairs, awesome carpets, etc. As dopey as this sounds, great-looking furnishings have a way of inhibiting a comedy. Don't ask me how, but they do. Think of the films of Chris Columbus, another copper-pot freak.)

The second beef is about a bit in the trailer in which Nicholson's character, a house guest of Keaton's, happens to catch her walking around nude. Both freak out in typical farcical fashon, but Nicholson's reaction sends out differing signals about the film's basic theology. After covering his eyes with his forearm and saying, "I'm sorry!," he repeats in a slightly muffled voice, "Oh, God, am I sorry!" He later recounts this shocking episode to Reeves and says, "I've never seen a woman of that age naked before."

There are two jokes here -- one about Nicholson's retirement-age character only taking young women to bed, and another about the need to adjust to the sight of a nude woman of 55 or so. But the film is also telling us that a man of Nicholson's age needs to see past this and recognize Keaton's allure. (Meyers puts her cards on the table when she has Reeve ask Keaton if she's ever considered that guys of her age who don't find her attractive "might be stupid?" Keaton says yes.) This is the same kind of double-dealing the Farrellys' tried in ME, MYSELF AND IRENE -- encouraging moviegoers to laugh at visual gags about obesity but also telling us at the same time to look within.

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE is Keaton's fourth outing with Meyers as a screenwriter, following BABY BOOM and the two FATHER OF THE BRIDE's. A friend tells me my complaints will not be shared bvy the public because WHAT WOMEN WANT made $170 million domestic, and so will this. Yeah, probably so. Nancy Meyers has good commercial instincts. And so what?

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Something's Gotta Give


Something's Gotta Give

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