Cinema Signal:

Bound to Bond: Gender, Genre, and the Hollywood Romantic Comedy

. "Something's Gotta Give"

The screenplay behind this study in sit-com blandness is as sharp as Jack Nicholson's wisdom tooth, rounded and worn and, possibly, missing in action. (Just guessing). Everybody who got hooked into coming aboard gave it their utmost to convince us that a hottie like Marin Barry (Amanda Peet) could see herself in a serious physical relationship with the crusty, old crank Harry Langer (Nicholson).

In order to achieve the unachievable, she had to be in some kind of reality between dumb and misguided but, okay, so that's the premise behind this attempt to exploit some talents and make a buck -- possibly a big one with all those Nicholson fans out there just waiting for each new masterpiece he sets his comedic mind to. But after that derivative romp with the unwild set, "About Schmidt", and now this, one wishes he'd set his agent off in quest of something serious. How about a taut detective yarn, Jack?

The other part of making the older man-younger woman situation barely credible is that Nicholson's character is a business entrepreneur whose ventures are so successful that he can work when he wants and take his girlfriend for a weekend tryst at her mother's ocean getaway when he wants. The man has money and idle time, a magnet for any luscious babe, right?

Things go awry when the carefree couple, expecting the house to be empty and about to take some clothes off for a romp between the sheets after so many boring road miles, discover that Erika (Diane Keaton), Marin's mother, has not gone back to her city home as promised. Not only is she in residence, but her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand) is with her.

Dinner is strained as the women pounce on the profligate older bachelor unmercifully and quite a bit over the top. It's one of many false notes played for laughs and message by writer-director Nancy Meyers who tends to write in TV level stereotypes and direct with uneven control over her own plot and cast. There are times, like when the lovers are in a post-coital fog on the bed when the pauses and silent stretches suggest that the lines weren't clicking or were just difficult to say. Why this wasn't corrected in post-production suggests there wasn't enough coverage of the scene to allow tightening. Unless, of course, Meyers thinks these moment are part of the Nicholson genius and that such moments play just fine.

The rest of it is a melodrama with comedic flourishes in which the super-annuated playboy and the inveterate spinster discover that a match between them was made in Hollywood heaven. It surely was. The material is a labor but the effect is canny movie making with two aging stars managing to demonstrate vitality and magnetism, ingredients that no doubt overrides low filmmaking standards, banal dialogue and situations, and other deficiencies. It's the "Odd Couple" turned even.

Likely as not, it was a fine move for Peet whose stardom is not yet assured. This intensely provocative actress has yet to find a role that pushes her to the forefront of a crowded field, but I'm one who is rooting for her. I hope this little truffle in a big budget box of sweets will push her brandname into the prominence that seems her due.

Again, giving due where it's deserved, Keaton fulfills this role with as much liveliness as she has ever had, probably her best work since 1993 for "Manhattan Murder Mystery." Keanu Reeves plays a handsome doctor who falls for Keaton in a farcical parallel to the other couple in the Meyer's construct of a romantic comedy. In it, he's nicely relaxed in his fetish-like adoration of an older woman -- a character flip from his intense Neo of the "Matrix."

Despite my overall lack of appetite for the unconvincing devices that I think fill Meyer's work like a trademark, I have no difficulty in recognizing that this outing fills a product need in the movie marketplace and will click with its intended audience.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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