Town and Country
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Written by Michael Laughlin, Buck Henry
Starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Garry Shandling, Goldie Hawn


Town and Country

In order to help you understand this film, I'd like to suggest that you read 'When Bad Things Happen to Good Comic Actors.' It hasn't been written yet, but I'm sure there'll be a market for it. Or maybe you've seen "Ishtar." That would help you come to grips with "Town and Country." This is a film that pleads for - no, it emits shattering cries for - a good comic writer and a director who knows how to stage a screwball comedy. Why not Woody Allen? Instead it got the turgid hack Buck Henry as cowriter and the talented but much too subtle and romantic British director Peter Chelsom ("Hear My Song") to stage it. Farce seems not really within his reach. So what should have been a slam-bang simpleminded sex comedy, with assignations, missed signals, hidden spouses, pratfalls, and a clear through-line, becomes an endless repetition of similar moments that go nowhere.

Obviously somebody had a good idea, way back when (and this film was completed in 1999 and has been sitting on the studio shelf for two years while everyone connected with it ran and hid). The idea was to pair up Warren Beatty with Diane Keaton, and Garry Shandling with Goldie Hawn, as two middle-aged couples, best friends for 25 years; and then let us watch as it comes to light that the men are, shall we say, not monogamous. Oh, has it been done before? Of course, but these four actors can do light comic shtick with their eyes closed. Add in a batch of other names, equally good, to help the plot along, and you should end up with something fast and funny, with blind corners and unexpected twists: the kind of thing Feydeau did so well 150 years ago. The kind of thing Howard Hawks and W.S. Van Dyke did in a dozen comedies in the thirties. But in "Town and Country" all we get is too many complex setups and a plot that starts, stops, stumbles, and starts again three different times.

Beatty's an architect and Keaton's a fabric designer. They have more money than God. Shandling's an antiques dealer, though we don't find that out till late in the film, and Hawn is - well, I'm not sure. They also have more money than God, and perhaps even more than the Beatty-Keatons. Both seem to have major Fifth Avenue apartments and Easthampton beach houses, or maybe they just share the beach house, I'm not sure; but the S-Hs also have a plantation in Mississippi and a little log cabin in Sun Valley. Why all this was thought necessary to fill out a simple little sex farce is way beyond me.

The film opens with Beatty in bed with cellist Nastassja Kinski (and why didn't someone show her how a cello is bowed?), as he tells us in voiceover that it really doesn't count as adultery. Okay, whatever. Then we see Shandling at a little motel with a redhead who turns out to be male. Shandling is gay, see? And he's hidden it from Goldie all these years. Also okay, whatever. But having given us the punchlines up front, the movie now has no place to go, except to give us more of the same.

What is more of the same? Well, Beatty and Hawn go to Mississippi to check out the plantation, and guess what they do with each other when they get there? Then Beatty and Shandling go to Sun Valley, where Beatty almost gets it on with Andie MacDowell before her insane parents (Charlton Heston and Marian Seldes) interfere; and with Jenna Elfman - the one truly funny moment in the film, when she takes both men to a Halloween party, Shandling dressed as Elvis and Beatty in a wonderful polar bear suit - before his kids show up out of nowhere and spoil that too. Elfman is by far the best thing in the film, and she's only on screen for about five minutes.

Am I giving too much away when I tell you that both wives head instantly for their divorce lawyers? Are those scenes funny? No so as you'd notice. But let's see: What other spoiled moments have I left out? Too many for your pretty little ears, which reminds me that the film comes with an R rating simply because two women are given lots of chances to use the f- word, as though that would make it funny all by itself. A strange choice.

I wish I could call this a noble failure, a kind of latter-day "Ishtar," but it doesn't even have that film's innocent charm. It's just tedious.