More noise than signal

Something’s Gotta Give

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

‘Romantic Comedy’ and ‘looking forward to’ aren’t phrases normally found in the same sentence in this corner of the WorldNetInterWeb, but any film starring Jack Nicholson deserves some level of anticipation because, in short, he’s da man. After a good showing in Anger Management we’d anticipated a good few laughs. Something’s Gotta Give delivers them, but stretched too thinly over a lengthy 128 minutes which is altogether too long for what it has set out to achieve.

Jack plays Harry Sanborn, a terrifically successful record company owner with a fondness for young nubile ladies. His latest would-be conquest is Marin (Amanda Peet), who whisks them away to her family’s beach side resort but before anything naughty can occur Marin’s playwright mother Erica (Diane Keaton) and aunt Zoe (an underused Frances McDormand) interject themselves into proceedings. After a short period of incriminations and finger pointing they all agree to share the house for the weekend, although the happy co-existence is short lived after Harry has a minor heart attack.

After exploring the boundaries of suspension of disbelief by the casting of Keanu Reeves as a doctor, we find that Harry will be fine after a period of recuperation, but shouldn’t travel. Where can he stay that’s close by? The Barry household of course, where after their initial rocky start Erica and Harry grow to appreciate each other’s company more, with Harry eventually cutting through Erica’s austere veneer to find the sensual woman underneath. What a player. Potential complications arise when the good doctor also falls in love with Erica. While Harry’s a fully paid up member of the love ’em and leave ’em club, he can’t shake the feeling that something’s different this time.

And so on, and so forth. If you’ve not seen the same basic plotlines played out a hundred different times you’ve not watched a hundred different rom-coms. It might not be making any brave genre redefining steps but it has the saving grace of being funny, largely thanks to another accomplished performance from Nicholson no doubt helped by the fact that he’s pretty much playing himself. While the secret of comedy may be timing, delivery is no less important and that’s the most important thing that Nicholson is bringing to this particular dance. Interesting to note that on occasion writer/director Nancy Meyers’ script doesn’t really warrant the level of laughter it frequently received and that’s mostly due to Jack’s sterling efforts.

Erica is a slightly more interesting and fleshed out character than you might expect from a rom-com, a strong, collected and seemingly together woman in a genre of scatterbrained Bridget Jones-alikes. Keaton acquits herself well and is never less than believable in her emotions with the possible exception of the final reel, which in itself feels like it’s been nicked from another film. Individually, the two leads are both good, strong characters and that would seem to be a promising thing indeed.

This is only slightly deflated by some particularly flat and lifeless scenes between the pair of them that seem almost…amateurish, which isn’t a word that ought to belong anywhere near a pair of actors as experienced and accomplished as these. It’s an intermittent fault, but for every scene that works flawlessly such as the first time they make love, Harry cutting off Erica’s omnipresent turtleneck with a rather obvious but still funny metaphorical release there’s a scene that lacks any spark of chemistry. Immediately before the above scene the two take a walk and picnic on the beech sharing forced banter that is almost embarrassing, the scripted words feeling exactly that, scripted, lacking in any spontaneity or charisma. This occasional chemistry malfunction is a flaw, but as it’s still funny it wouldn’t be a critical flaw assuming it kept the pace up throughout.

Sadly it doesn’t. For what is at heart an unassuming and unadventurous little film, 128 minutes is a long time for it to exist in. The last half hour in particular drags along, doing little of interest that couldn’t have been more effectively wrapped up earlier on. With the innate subtlety of a twelve pound lumphammer it drives home the points that Harry’s attitudes have changed and Erica has loosened up, all of which was already more than obvious. Indeed, when the expected happy ending arrives it feels tacked on as an afterthought and is presented as altogether too clean and too nice for what actually occurs, and may make an already impatient audience loose what little remains them.

Most of the fault I suppose has to lie at Meyers’ door, but she does enough good work in the earlier parts of the film to escape too much of a critical pasting. While superfluous, some of the cinematography in the closing scene’s decampment to Paris is very pretty indeed and cleverly apes an earlier stage show that Erica produces. It’s just a shame that she couldn’t recognise that perhaps she’d wrote a little too much in an ultimately failed attempt to differentiate this film from it’s genre competitors.

If this film had been cut down and compressed into ninety minutes I suspect it would be a lot better than it’s current incarnation, but as it stands there’s enough laughs in there not to disappoint those who’ve stumped up the entry fee. If however, you only intend to see one romantic comedy in your life time there’s not close to one single compelling reason for you to make it Something’s Gotta Give

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