Something's Gotta Give

(2003) *** Pg-13
125 min. Columbia. Director: Nancy Meyers. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, Amanda Peet.

Though I felt a wave of crankiness rolling back in after the cool breeze of Something's Gotta Give, I still had to hand it to writer-director Nancy Myers (What Women Want, Baby Boom). Myers attracted time-tested stars Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, without whom her film could have been merely an average TV movie of twenty years ago, starring Rue McClanahan and Richard Mulligan; with Keaton and Nicholson, Something's Gotta Give fairly glows with cheery neuroses, good humor, and yes, sex appeal.

Myers also deserves credit for whipping up amiable romantic complications. Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn, an entrepeneur playboy plainly styled after Nicholson. His claim to fame is never dating a girl under 30, but when he and his latest charge Marin (Amanda Peet) shack up at her mother's beach house, complications ensue. First, the mother--a celebrated playwright named Erica Barry (Keaton)--shows up to find a half-dressed Nicholson at her fridge. After a comically tense dinner, Nicholson has a heart episode, which gives Myers occasion to stage a mouth-to-mouth between Keaton and a horrified, prone Nicholson, to the tune of "Let's Get it On."

The film could have been properly titled "Heart Attacks," if it weren't so uncommercial. Metaphorically, both Nicholson and Keaton feel like victims of a romantic sneak attack; after setting their hearts against it, at long last, it's love? Could they be...soul-mates? The self-critical Erica--described by Harry as "flinty...impervious...formidable"--has long since resigned herself to careerism. Harry--self-described "expert on the younger woman" and "old dog"--finds himself befuddled and resistant to the new tricks of sharing his life and bed with a contemporary. Abetted by frequent Scorsese cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, Myers gives the film surprising visual panache, using wind and light as mood stabilizers and contrasting Nicholson's colorful party-lounge vibe to Keaton's calmly creamy, seashell-strewn environs.

The film suffers from generic patches and despite a few feints, betrays a complete lack of interest in its second leads (Peet and Keaton's alternate love interest, Keanu Reeves). Both characters, at different times, find themselves unceremonially dispatched off camera or out of earshot. In certain other respects, like the film's running time, Myers lacks restraint: the screenplay's low point reveals that Keaton's serious playwright has incorporated into her autobiographical play a chorus line of Nicholsons (plundered none too wisely from Jay Leno's Dancing Itos). The fiction-imitates-reality turn openly quotes Keaton's towering Annie Hall, a warmly amusing IM motif shows Myers to be simpatico with Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail), and another late plot turn apes High Fidelity to diminishing effect.

But audiences will thrill to the rediscovery of Keaton in her element (she has seemed ill-at-ease in a decade of mostly second-banana roles on film); here, she's lovably eccentric and sexy in ways only previously exploited to full effect by Woody Allen. Nicholson shares the screen well with Keaton, despite being eternally larger than life, whether referring to his member as "Mr. Midnight" or warbling "La Vie En Rose" over the credits. The rollicking Jack scores typical laughs with flurries of oddball gestures and leering savoir faire, and Myers conspires with his fearless ego to undercut his own image (and that of buddy Robert Evans) while plumbing more of the vulnerability of age and intimacy behind the larger-than-life persona.

Unlike recent Nicholson vehicles like About Schmidt or even As Good As It Gets, Something's Gotta Give is toothless, but very cute and awfully charming. These rich and famous folk aren't everyday people, and no one will mistake the movie for even an upper-class reality, but in the fantasy romance vein of, say, a Sabrina, the film happily fulfills wishes and lets stars get paychecks the old-fashioned way: by earning them.

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