Something's Gotta Give
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, in this case the film editor who put together the awful trailer for "Something's Gotta Give," and made the movie look like another two hours of Jack Nicholson shtick. The film is in fact a reasonably worthwhile romantic comedy, surviving its lacunae and the occasional wrong note thanks to a light touch in the writing, a (mostly) restrained performance by Nicholson, and a brilliant reminder by Diane Keaton of what a great physical actress she is. Those graceful long arms and expressive hands convey worlds with each gesture, and her classic face with its elegant bones can go from joy to fury to sorrow in an instant. Her voice has deepened over the years and she's lost the girlish mannerisms she used to rely on in her Woody Allen films.
Keaton is Erica Barry, successful playwright, divorced fifty-something mother of Marin (Amanda Peet in a most bizarre teenage bangs-and-ponytail hairdo, though it's pointed out in the film that she's almost thirty), who one day brings her new boyfriend Harry Sanborn (Nicholson) to mom's empty Easthampton beach house for a weekend of sex. This being a romantic comedy, mom shows up unexpectedly with her sister (Frances McDormand) and wonders out loud why her twenty-something daughter is going out with a sixty-something guy. Good question; Harry is without charm or sex appeal to anyone with an active brain. I think this is a weakness in the script, which should have given him a weightier character; after all, even Hugh Hefner had something to say about the world - but there you are. Accept it; this… is… a… comedy. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that the last time Keaton and Nicholson appeared together was in Warren Beatty's 1981 film "Reds," where she as Louise Bryant and he as Eugene O'Neill had themselves quite an affair. Now, more than two decades later, Nicholson particularly has matured into a place where he can stand aside and let Keaton carry the film. Without straining for a minute, she takes over and gives a beautiful, funny and nuanced performance.
As for the plot, very quickly Harry has a heart attack; he's attended by Dr. Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves, back to his nicely relaxed, lightly self-aware, pre-"Matrix" persona), who himself has a great crush on Erica, who of course is twenty years older than he. Got it so far? The rest of the film is a sorting-out of the various mismatches until the clinch at the end. In the meantime Erica has occasion to fall for Harry, get jilted, write a new play based on his wicked obtuseness - he gets his just desserts in it - and have it be a great Broadway hit. Since we know from the beginning that they will end up together the film relies on some torturous twists to postpone it and add enough running time. It could have been a bit shorter.
Writer-director Nancy Meyers has given her people some delicious lines: When Marin tells Erica that "Harry is leaving as soon as the sun comes up," Erica says, "What - his car doesn't have headlights?" And the film takes seriously the idea of two middle-aged people falling in love, being sexy with each other, testing their ability to commit and suffering the pangs of rejection. That's rare these days. Good romantic comedies come along so seldom that we're tempted to overvalue the few that get made. "Something's Gotta Give" is not a disappointment; it's good enough that we can indulge ourselves in the wish that it were better.