Los Angeles Times

Movie review: 'Something's Gotta Give'

Chicago Tribune Movie Critic

3 stars (out of 4)

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson play lovers in Nancy Meyers' smart new romantic comedy "Something's Gotta Give," and they disprove the rusty old saw that in movies only the young (or the heavily made-up middle-aged) can be sexy.

"Something's Gotta Give" doesn't always sizzle, but its stars do. When they shuck clothes and pitch woo, they make convincing magic. Playing a pair of lovers supposedly past their prime - lecherous hip-hop record company owner Harry Sanborn and Broadway playwright Erica Barry - Nicholson, 66, and Keaton, 57, light up the screen with their screwball badinage and light fires in their bedroom scenes, too.

Perhaps that's not a feat for Nicholson, who has been letting it all hang out - paunch, receding hairline and all - for a while. But it's a new wrinkle for Keaton, one co-star who really holds her own with Nicholson.

The movie takes its title from the old Johnny Mercer song about "irresistible forces" and "immovable objects" that 56-year-old Fred Astaire sang to 24-year-old Leslie Caron in 1955's "Daddy Long Legs." Irresistibility and immovability are the prime ingredients here, too. Harry starts out as randy, rich old goat who only dates much younger women and who pops up one weekend at Erica's beach house with his latest girlfriend, Erica's daughter Marin (Amanda Peet).

Nicholson plays Harry as an old smoothie, socially adept and slyly seductive. But problems ignite when Erica unexpectedly shows up. A swift-thinking writer embittered by ex-hubby Dave's (Paul Michael Glaser) defection with younger blood, she is understandably perturbed at her daughter's choice of partners. The embarrassment is compounded when the old guy, during acts of love, suffers a heart attack and is forced to recuperate for a few weeks at the beach house - left alone with Erica when Marin returns to the city.

For this first part, "Something's Gotta Give" struck me as a bit glib, overcalculated and coy. Meyers is trying to do something unusual for a big studio movie - make a classic Tracy-Hepburn comedy about a romance between equals; the last time Tracy and Hepburn did that was 1956 in "Desk Set," when the stars were 56 and 49. Meyers has one advantage, though, beyond her great star couple. She's writing in the post-Viagra age, when sex and aging problems are regularly ventilated in TV ads. "Gotta Give" plays up the stars' age, with lots of Viagra and menopause gags and several near-fatal heart attacks.

This may sound tasteless, but never underestimate the effortless skill and potent appeal of Nicholson and Keaton, who've been turning us on since the '60s and '70s and still know how. When Harry and Erica crawl into bed, "Something's Gotta Give" suddenly becomes magical. Nicholson, with his swagger and cunning, and Keaton, with her nerves and off-kilter timing, show us why the old-style romantic comedies worked and why they can work just as well in an age of sexual candor.

Romantic movies can be funnier and sexier when the romance is between smart equals. Matched briefly with potential younger lovers with drop-dead good looks - Harry with foxy Marin and Erica with dreamy-eyed doctor Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves) - Nicholson and Keaton convince us that they belong together, not just because they should act their age, but because they're more fun in bed.

Nicholson, always a great crier, can still bring off heartbreak scenes, too, as can Keaton. These two can pull off so many emotions and play in such a wide range, even with material that's sometimes shallow and overly familiar, that they constantly outshine their youthful foils Reeves and Peet - though to be fair, the younger stars keep wisely ceding the spotlight to their elders.

I've never been that thrilled by Meyers' movies before, including her last big hit, "What Women Want." But they often have great moments and sharp individual performances. This time, she won me. "Something's Gotta Give" shows us she's right to stick to those old romantic comedy guns - and to match up people like Smilin' Jack and Jumpy Diane. Immovable object. Irresistible force. Click.

"Something's Gotta Give"
Directed and written by Nancy Meyers; photographed by Michael Ballhaus; edited by Joe Hutshing; production designed by Jon Hutman; music by Hans Zimmer; produced by Meyers, Bruce A. Block. A Columbia Pictures/Warner Brothers release; opens Friday, Dec. 12. Running time: 2:04. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual content, brief nudity and strong language).
Harry Sanborn - Jack Nicholson
Erica Barry - Diane Keaton
Julian Mercer - Keanu Reeves
Zoe - Frances McDormand
Marin - Amanda Peet
Leo - Jon Favreau
Dave - Paul Michael Glaser
Dr. Martinez - Rachel Ticotin

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