THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Something’s Gotta Give is a bit of a rarity these days: it offers an honest, realistic portrayal of adult love and sexuality. Jack Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn, a never-married 63-year old rogue who delights in dating much younger women. His current flame is Marin (Amanda Peet). She takes him for a weekend trip to her mother’s beach house in the Hamptons where they plan to consummate their relationship for the first time. Just as the fooling around is about to take place, in walks Marin’s mother, a well-regarded playwright named Erica Berry (Diane Keaton). She is mildly horrified to find her daughter dating a significantly older man, but she tries to play cool by letting them stay. Soon afterward, Harry suffers a mild heart attack during foreplay and is rushed to a local hospital, where he’s treated by Dr. Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves).

Harry is discharged quickly, with orders not to travel until he feels better. Marin heads back to the city while Harry becomes Erica’s unwanted houseguest. At first they don’t get along. Harry is the eternal playboy, afraid of commitment. Erica, meanwhile, has been emotionally closed off since the collapse of her 20-year marriage. She criticizes him for dating young women; he notes the irony of her flirtation with Julian. Their forced time together begins to change their opinions and, this being a romantic comedy, they eventually fall in love.

The movie very effectively shows us how the characters change. Harry realizes that Erica is much more interesting than most of the girls he dates. She has a maturity that challenges him. She is intelligent, a woman of substance. He’s never had that before and it intrigues him, especially after a life-threatening heart attack. Erica, on the other hand, learns to live a little. Harry questions her uptight ways, including the fact that she wears turtlenecks in the summertime. She realizes that he’s right – she hasn’t allowed herself to live much since the divorce. Once Erica is willing to open herself up a little bit, she feels things that she hasn’t felt in a long time. She feels alive again. Their sex scene is very amusing because they both cry when it’s over, so moved are they. Adult sexuality is so rarely dealt with in films; seeing it done so well is incredibly touching. Something’s Gotta Give sends the idea that even middle-aged people are capable of passion, both romantic and sexual.

Nicholson and Keaton do beautiful jobs creating these characters and making their transitions believable. It would be easy to say that Nicholson is just playing himself, but I don’t believe that’s true. Sure, there are obvious similarities which the actor no doubt drew upon. However, he makes the character three-dimensional and never capitalizes on his public image. An even better performance comes from Diane Keaton. She shows us all of Erica’s sides: the side that’s bottled up, the side that wants to be free, the side that’s afraid. You name it and she shows it. This role allows Keaton to hit just about every emotion known to man and she nails them all. I love the chemistry the two actors have together as well. There’s a scene in which Harry and Erica walk along the beach, talking about their lives. During this scene, I didn’t feel like I was watching two great actors acting; I felt like I was watching two people really getting to know one another. The scene has the kind of natural realism you don’t often see.

As wonderful as all this is, Something’s Gotta Give suffers from a serious flaw. (Since this is a romantic comedy, I’m going to assume that the reader will generally anticipate certain requirements of the genre.) The movie reaches what feels like a natural conclusion when Harry and Erica discover their mutual feelings of love and respect. It seems like everyone has learned something; it seems like these two characters are now ready to live a happier, more fulfilling life together. Around this point, I looked at my watch. The film had been running for about 90 minutes. I knew that its running length was just over two hours. That could mean only one thing: the screenplay was going to contrive a way for Harry and Erica to be split apart, then brought together again in the last scene. It was going to delay the obvious.

And that’s exactly what happens. (I’m going to give specifics; you won’t be surpised by any of these plot contrivances but if you don’t want to know, skip to the next paragraph.) We in the audience know that these two people are meant to be together and, moreover, we know that they know they are meant to be together. One has to wonder, then, why the screenplay turns from smart to manipulative. Writer-director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want) has always been too much of a slave to the “formula” of Hollywood – a fact that again becomes obvious here. In script writing courses, they literally do teach a formula. Ten percent of the way into the movie, something happens that sets the story in motion (Harry and Erica meet). Halfway through, the characters reach the “point of no return” (Harry and Erica have sex and declare their feelings). At the three-quarter mark, an obstacle comes into play that puts things in jeopardy (Erica goes to the city and finds Harry on a date with a young woman). Ninety percent of the way, something is supposed to take place that makes a happy ending seem impossible (Harry comes back to declare his love, only to find Erica is now dating Julian). The final ten percent of the script is supposed to somehow resolve all of this – in a “final push” – to create the happy ending that seemed impossible just moments before. The final push here is so forced that you can practically hear Meyers straining at her keyboard.

Something’s Gotta Give should have called it quits at the halfway point. It becomes so bogged down in following the formula that it completely wrecks the film. We get to a place that offers a satisfying emotional payoff, but then the movie just goes on and on and on. Why? Why did Meyers think it was necessary to throw in a bunch of lame plot manipulations, especially when they don’t further the underlying theme? This movie has a special depiction of adult relationships, but by the end, it’s no different than any generic piece of junk that the screenwriting formula routinely spits out. There’s some real good stuff in this picture, but the last 40 minutes are so woefully misguided that the whole thing collapses. I went from thinking “This movie is great!” to thinking “This movie sucks!” What a waste of something special.

( 1/2 out of four)

Something's Gotta Give is rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and strong language. The running time is 2 hours and 4 minutes.

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