Something's Gotta Give (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I wanted to like this movie more than I actually did, because it addresses a couple of provocative issues head-on, without too much sugar coating. The first is the Hollywood tendency to devalue middle-age female actors, relegating them to supporting roles and stripping them of all sex appeal. The second is the unwritten rule that all romantic comedies must feature young protagonists (in order not to alienate the all-important teenage audience). Something's Gotta Give shows (gasp!) that female sexuality does not wither up and die long before menopause, and it features a couple who are in their 50s and 60s. Alas, the problems lie not in the movie's ideas or casting, but in the sitcom-like screenplay employed by writer/director Nancy Meyers, and in the inability of the filmmakers to cut the movie down to a reasonable length. Boredom sets in long before the end credits begin to roll.

It would be easy to spend a few paragraphs extolling the virtues of the older woman, but I shouldn't need to. With age comes not only wisdom, but experience. It's often true that a woman of 55 can be a more engaging companion than someone half her age. Hollywood hasn't figured this out, which is why a barrier exists somewhere between 30 and 40. For every Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep, who continue to be offered substantive roles later in life, there are dozens like Michelle Pfeiffer - one-time big names who are largely forgotten. With Something's Gotta Give, it is Meyers' intention not merely to rebut this mindset, but to openly attack it. Here, the tables are turned. The men are after 57-year old Diane Keaton, who has both a nude scene and a sex scene - two things that normally don't happen in American films with women over 40.

The story opens with 63-year old Harry Langer (Jack Nicholson) pursuing a sexual liaison with the much younger Marin Barry (Amanda Peet). An attempted tryst at the vacation home owned by Marin's mother, Erica (Keaton), is foiled when Mom shows up along with her sister, Zoe (Frances McDormand), at an inappropriate time. The four spend the day together, but things end on a sour note when Harry suffers a mild heart attack. Following his hospitalization, Harry returns to Erica's house to convalesce, but Marin and Zoe go back to the city, leaving Erica and Harry alone. The two, who initially seem like oil and water, develop a connection. They proceed to spend most of the rest of the movie denying what is obvious to everyone in the audience - the confirmed bachelor and emotionally closed-off divorcee are madly in love with one another.

The disappointing thing about Something's Gotta Give is how trite and ordinary the dialogue is. There's a surprising banality in the way the characters talk to each other, and their conversation is littered with the kind of cute, artificial language that characterizes sitcom dialogue. There are times when Nicholson and Keaton manage to deliver their lines with more conviction than the words deserve, but even they can't always hide how little substance there is in those words.

Despite its bold stance on the attributes of older women, Something's Gotta Give is very much a traditional romantic comedy. It follows the formula rigorously, meaning that, once the characters have initially found each other, complications must break them apart. In this case, there are two contrivances - Harry's legendary inability to commit and a dashingly handsome male doctor named Julian (Keanu Reeves) who is head-over-heels for Erica. For the better part of an hour, the plot labors through an unnecessarily protracted section where Harry and Erica are kept apart. Because Meyers cannot reunite her characters quickly enough, the movie's running length tops the 2-hour mark - a point at which even the best romantic comedy would threaten to wear out its welcome.

There's obviously an element of self-parody in Jack Nicholson's portrayal of Harry, and maybe that's part of the reason his work is so enjoyable. Nicholson is in on the joke, and has fun with it. Diane Keaton gives her most lively and open performance since 1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery. Amanda Peet and Keanu Reeves (having lightened up now that he's no longer required to be the Chosen One) have exactly the right amount of time as the couple's younger attachments. Frances McDormand and Jon Favreau are both underused. One would have thought that, given the bloated running length, more time could have been spent with them.

Something's Gotta Give will likely be viewed by most audiences as a "chick flick," and it's probably an apt description. The film will strike its most solid chord with older women, who will applaud what Meyers has to say. Like in her previous outing, What Women Want, she manages to use comedy and romance to get across a message. And, despite the weak dialogue, there are still some laughs to be had. At the end of this long journey, we're rooting for Harry and Erica to be together. For the movie to get us to that point, regardless of its motives and methods, it can't be all bad.

Something's Gotta Give (United States, 2003)

Director: Nancy Meyers
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, Jon Favreau
Screenplay: Nancy Meyers
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Music: Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 2:08
U.S. Release Date: 2003-12-12
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1