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Something’s Gotta Give (A Movie Review)

Updated: Aug 11, 2023


Starring Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet, Frances McDormand, Jon Favreau, Paul Michael Glaser, Nichole Hiltz, Roxanne Beckford, Alan Charof, Lewis Dauber, Deborah Daulton-Morton, Maria Esquivel, Michelle Fabiano, Patrick Fischler, Marjie Gum, Julia Rose, Leigh Rose, Russ Russo, Jennifer Siebel and Kadee Strickland.

Screenplay by Nancy Meyers.

Directed by Nancy Meyers.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment. Rated PG-13. 117 minutes.

It is funny, watching Something's Gotta Give, you can't help but realize how strangely revolutionary it is. It is a serious love story, with major stars and commercial aspirations, about people over fifty. These are people who may have a little paunch and some gray in their hair and wrinkles and who are very set in their ways. It explores how frightening, but potentially rewarding, it can be to open themselves up to something they had long thought was past them... romantic love. And in doing so, perhaps negate everything they had come to believe about their lives.

It shouldn't be so rare to have a movie like this in Hollywood, but it is.

Diane Keaton plays Erica Barry. She is a brilliant and successful playwright (no, that isn't an oxymoron) who lives in a gorgeous beach house in the Hamptons. She is a recent divorcé who is still cordial with her ex (Paul Michael Glaser... yes, the guy who played Starsky!) to the point that he still directs all her plays. Her life is very controlled and orderly. She is comfortable. But she has cut herself off from feeling, from passion. She is deathly afraid to take the chance of getting hurt again.

Jack Nicholson has great fun playing with his image as a ladies man in the character of Harry Langer. Harry is a commitment-phobic entrepreneur who has made a fortune in a series of entertainment companies. His current gig is co-owner of a record label that specializes in hip hop. Harry will only date women in their twenties and thirties, perhaps knowing that there will never be any future in them, just a short spectacular explosion of lust. He has become a sort of human art collector, skipping from one beauty to the next, never stopping to appreciate the one he has. Fortunately for him, Harry has the charm and the bankroll that he can win over these girls in the short term. Harry is the living embodiment of the immortal words of novelist Thomas McGuane; "I like young girls. Their stories are shorter."

Erica and Harry meet strictly by accident. Actually, Harry is dating Erica's beautiful daughter Marin (Amanda Peet). They sneak up to Erica's house for their first weekend of sex, believing that Erica won't be there. Of course, Erica and her sister (Frances McDormand) are there. They all try to co-exist civilly, though Erica and her sister (a women's studies professor) sort of gang up on Harry about his lothario ways. When Harry has a mild heart attack while in the bedroom with Marin, he is forced by his doctor (Keanu Reeves) to stay at the house for a few days to recuperate.

Erica is horrified that she is going to have to be nursemaid to Harry for this time, but she does agree to do it. At first, they drive each other crazy, but eventually Harry and Erica start to talk and to relate. Harry's doctor turns out to be a huge fan of Erica's work. He sets about aggressively courting her. Harry gives her advice on dating the younger man, but it is obvious that, probably for the first time in his life, Harry is becoming interested in a woman near his own age. After a while, Harry's insight and charm has Erica thinking about him romantically, too.

The movie is somewhat geared towards women and does tend to push its own agenda at the expense of the characters. It vilifies Harry (as well as Erica's ex-husband) for dating women who are significantly younger than them, and yet when Keaton dates the significantly younger doctor Keanu, it is applauded as a way that she is coming to terms with finally living her life. When Harry finally realizes that he wants to commit to Erica, his character is forced to go through a sort-of twelve step program on his old ways before he can be deemed worthy of her.

Keaton's writer sometimes has to act a little out of character to prove the points of the film, too. Erica is always shown to be together and in control of her life, but when she finally gives and gets hurt, she goes on a monumental crying jag that seems to last for weeks. Also, the whole idea of a playwright creating a play as therapy by quoting verbatim from the relationship has kind of been done to death. In fact, years ago Keaton had it done to her character in Annie Hall (1977), so she should know better.

The coincidental plot points that promote monogamous relationships keep on coming. Daughter Marin essentially fixes up her mother and the guy she was dating. Later, after Erica explains to Marin, another determined commitment-phobe, that after all the highs of love are worth the pain, Marin gets married and pregnant within three months. When we finally come to the beautiful climax in Paris, where Erica must decide between Harry and the doctor, one of the characters seems to bow out awfully quickly. (And I'll bet that you can guess which one...)

Something's Gotta Give is far from a perfect film. However, it is mostly very smartly written, and the cast is top-notch. Most importantly, seeing Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson performing at the top of their game erases any problems that the film has. Their natural chemistry makes this possibly the most affecting love story of the year. (11/03)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved. Posted: December 13, 2003.

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