Something's Gotta Give

Laura Clifford 
Something's Gotta Give
Robin Clifford 
Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) is a sixty-three year old bachelor famed for dating women less than half his age.  When he accompanies his latest flame, Marin (Amanda Peet, "Igby Goes Down"), to her mother's beach house in the Hamptons, he suffers a heart attack before he makes his conquest.  Marin's mom, fifty-five year old playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), is freaked when she learns she'll be left with Harry while he recuperates, but when the doubting duo let their defenses down, "Something's Gotta Give."

Writer/director Nancy Meyers ("What Women Want") feeds into feminist fantasy for a second time by creating an incorrigible bachelor to humble in the name of love.  "Something's Gotta Give" is head and shoulders better than Meyer's last film (which she did not write), but that is largely due to her terrific ensemble cast.  The churning of this romantic comedy's gears becomes more and more apparent as the story progresses.

At the local hospital, Harry's doctor, Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves, "The Matrix Revolutions"), catches the eye of both Marin and her aunt Zoe (Frances McDormand, "Laurel Canyon"), but his eye has been caught by Erica and when he learns her identity, he's even more intrigued, having seen all her plays.  Before she knows what's hit her, Erica is out on her first date in years with a man almost twenty years younger.  To complicate matters, when Marin stops in at Mom's late one night, she detects that 'there's more cooking in that kitchen than pancakes' after interrupting Erica and Harry preparing a late night snack in their pj's.  Marin gracefully backs out and soon Harry is testing his ticker, sans Viagra no less, in Erica's bedroom, but although the commitment-phobe knows his heart has been touched, Harry's habits are too ingrained and he retreats back into his old lifestyle.

Meyer embellishes her script with paeans to aging domesticity like the reading glasses which get switched between Erica and Harry and the need to consider blood pressure levels before canoodling, but she unfortunately bungles genre conventions.  While the pairing of Keaton and Reeves is certainly intriguing, Meyer gives Mercer little respect, using the character as an obvious romantic obstacle (particularly mercilessly in the film's climax).  Erica rails and sobs over her abandonment (thankfully, Keaton actually makes all the sobbing comedic) then therapeutically pours her heartbreak into a her new play, but except for the twist of killing off Harry, Meyer makes no transition from reality to fiction, leaving her world famous playwright looking like nothing more than a kiss and teller.  Erica's ex suddenly remarrying a woman younger than his daughter is another awkwardly handled contrivance to throw Erica back into Harry's path - it's not exactly clear what's going on initially because the daughter is so hysterical about the situation that mom must swoop into the city to calm her (forgetting a date with Dr. Mercer in the bargain - there is no sorrier, nor unbelievable, sight than Keanu Reeves, as a charming doctor no less, being stood up).

Meyers does get a great vibe going with her cast however.  Jack has never been more of a rapscallion and gets an opportunity to display a knack for physical comedy.  He lasciviously licks an ice cream while watching the departing rump of Marin, careens around hospital corridors with a flapping johnny, and makes a fall out of bed laugh out loud funny.  Of course, Jack is being Jack - his concession to character is to rein in his eyebrow waggling - but he does manage to put across the impression of a changed man.  Diane Keaton, on the other hand, flies with this role. She puts across a successful woman who has grown content being single until she's shaken up from two fronts.  She's smart and sexy (even appearing nude, albeit briefly, for the first time in decades) and has great chemistry with Jack as a lover (their sex scene is hilarious - Jack's 'Who's the lucky boy!' is delivered with the enthusiasm of his famous "Here's Johnny!" ad lib) and Peet in a natural mother/daughter pairing.  Reeves is confident as a compassionate physician and he makes his attraction to Erica believable with an expression that is both amused and quizzical when he regards her.  McDormand's Columbia professor of women's studies delivers her tart commentaries with a matter-of-factness that makes them hilarious.  Her reactions to the pairings of her female relatives are some of the film's highest points.  One wishes she had a subplot of her own, in order to see more of her.

The film is a slick looking package, full of gorgeous locations (the Hamptons, New York City and Paris) and sets (Erica's Hampton home interiors) and character defining costuming by Suzanne McCabe ("Everyone Says I Love You").

"Something's Gotta Give" isn't perfect, but its dream cast makes its flaws easy to ignore.


Sexagenarian playboy Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) travels to the Hamptons to spend the weekend with his latest under thirty something infatuation, Marin (Amanda Peet), staying at her mother’s luxurious beach house. When mom, playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), shows up with her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand), Harry makes plans to leave. But, not before he has heart attack and comes under Erica’s care in “Something’s Gotta Give.”

Writer-turned-director Nancy Meyers has always had a penchant for hitting the right button for the movie going general public from her debut scribing with “Private Benjamin” to the international box office hit, her sophomore directing effort, “What Women Want,” starring Mel Gibson. Meyers’s works have always had good chick appeal but not a filmmaking style that normally interests me. Her characters are of the typical Hollywood variety, usually wealthy and without any of the cares of us mere mortals. “Something’s Gotta Give” looks to be more of the same, but with a difference.

Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton positively sparkle in their characters of Harry and Erica. In typical Meyers’s fashion, he is a well-to-do businessman and the owner of 10 companies. She is a divorced, extremely successful playwright whose work is the toast of Broadway. Harry likes his women young, preferably under 30 years old, but he has a heart attack at the start of fooling around with pretty (young) Marin. He ends up in the hospital where handsome Dr. Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves) orders him to bed rest and absolutely not take the long trip back to New York. The medico, a huge fan of Erica’s plays, makes no bones about his interest in her on a personal level.

Erica is convinced, against her will, to let Harry stay with her until he is well enough to travel. Once ensconced in the guest bedroom Harry tries to have things his way as usual but not if equally strong-willed Erica has things her way. She is the mistress of her castle and he has to follow the rules, like no smoking in the house. She immerses herself in her latest play and he in his recuperation but, slowly and surely, the walls come down between them. Erica learns that there is more to the lifelong cradle-robbing bachelor than she first thought and finds that romance is not a thing of the past. Harry finally realizes that there is more to a woman than youthful beauty as he, too, discovers love and real companionship for the first time.

Jack Nicholson still has that trademark devilish gleam in his eye but there is also a comedic maturity that he exhibited in “About Schmidt.” In “Something’s Gotta Give” there is a believable character, in Harry, beneath the glamour. Nicholson is game for the slapstick elements as well as the romance. Diane Keaton still carries a hint of her Annie Hall persona but shows a degree of assured maturity as an actress and she carries herself with grace and dignity. She, too, gives her all – make that “bares her all” – in a quick scene of mutual embarrassment with Harry. The couple also provides some of the best on screen kisses.

Supporting cast is, basically, just there, with one exception. Frances McDormand, as Erica’s women’s studies professor at Columbia and sister steals the show when she is on camera. Her fast-talking, fast-thinking Zoe is a vibrant breath of fresh air and the actress takes the character far beyond the expected cliché. Keanu Reeves is eye candy for the femmes, especially the more appreciative over 30 crowd, who enjoy a good romantic comedy and a handsome and sensitive character like Dr. Julian. Amanda Peet is perky as Marin but there is not much for her to do opposite her veteran costars.

Production techs are first rate with Erica’s Hamptons home beautifully reproduced on a Hollywood sound stage by Jon Hutman. Michael Ballhaus’s expert lensing compliments to production lifestyles of the rich and famous. Costume, too, is notable with Harry dressed elegantly in linens and silk suits and Erica mostly in white turtlenecks and practical clothes.

Jack and Diane help make “Something’s Gotta Give” a better film than it should have been. There is a wonderful chemistry between the two that make it a worthwhile date flick for the more mature minded audience. I give it a B-.

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