Something's Gotta Give July 18, 2019
1 Hr., 46 Mins.
arry (Jack Nicholson), the 60-something-year-old romantic lead of Something’s Gotta Give (2003), considers himself an expert on younger women. He thinks so “because I’ve been dating them for over 40 years”; he thinks so — since, why wouldn’t he after such an unconventional life marker? — because his adventures in dating were once the subject of a New York magazine profile. The piece was called
"The Escape Artist," and it was so popular that, during a dinner scene in the film, it’s brought up and some of the characters’ eyes start twinkling. Yet Harry, an über-successful music mogul cut from the David Geffen cloth, isn’t characterized as a misogynist. He’s rendered, simply, as a fun-seeker — a charismatic
womanizer almost impressively unapologetic about his rather transactional
dating habits. In Something's Gotta Give, though, his romantic tenets get updated.
As the film opens, Harry and his latest girlfriend, cheerful auctioneer Marin (Amanda Peet), are heading to the Hamptons for a weekend getaway. Marin's mother, a sardonic 50-something-year-old playwright named Erica (Diane Keaton), owns a beach house there. It should be empty. But shortly after entering — or, more accurately, after Harry is seen grabbing a drink from the fridge following a makeout session, pantsless — he and Marin discover that they aren’t alone after all. Both Erica and her shrewd English-teacher sister, Zoe (Frances McDormand), are there, too. Erica is working on her latest play; Zoe is grading papers. Harry and Marin first resolve that, being intruders, they should take their vacation elsewhere. But then Zoe suggests a happy medium. Everyone should stay. If everyone decides to hang out, they'll hang out. If they don’t, they don’t.
Hang out they do. Doing most of it, though, are Harry and Erica, who, despite having a prickly rapport at the start — Erica, appearing uptight to Harry's eye, is turned off by the latter's lifestyle and perceived wiliness — come to like each other a lot. Their workaholism matches; so do the senses of humor and vulnerabilities. Dating-website-style long walks on the beach and profound late-night heart-to-hearts prove it. There naturally comes a point, then, where Erica, who for the most part gave up on dating around the time she got a divorce, thinks she might like-like Harry. Harry wonders if it’s time to phase out his younger-women-only rule. Maybe Erica is the Annette Bening to his Warren Beatty.
The middle-aged-people-falling-in-love premise as employed by Something's Gotta Give is tired, and writer-director Nancy Meyers can’t help but uphold obvious age-related set pieces. Harry has multiple heart attacks, usually to generate laughter; Harry accidentally walks in on Erica naked, and the moment is treated like a fake-out horror-movie jump scare where a cat is thrown at the camera; and sex is almost always conflated with the threat of death for comic effect. But even when pandering to cliché, the film is jovial and engaging. It's one of the best additions to Meyers’ oeuvre, which solely comprises seemingly frivolous comedies, romantically oriented or not, that end up having surprising, pretty-sizable emotional payoffs.
Meyers is blessed with an ensemble that at once complements and provides an idiosyncratic edge to the material. Keaton and Nicholson, who can put on self-aware charm as if it was a baseball cap, and the supporting players, who, despite becoming afterthoughts sooner or later, bring a kind of warm specificity that cannot be written. (Particularly good is Keanu Reeves, who plays Harry’s doctor and the secondary, unlikely love interest for Erica; Reeves, earnest and considerate here, intermittently made me wish he was the one ultimately winning Erica over.)
A well-suited director-ensemble pairing is always beneficial to a movie, but it's especially true for the rom-com. For a genre so fickle and disposed to a feeling of factory-madeness, it's vital that behind the camera is a filmmaker who has a vision that's feel-good but more so knowing and emotionally convincing, and that in front of the camera are stars who not only enhance the material but also inspire us to engage with it as if we were experiencing the romance in question firsthand. Meyers is a largely undisputed master of the genre. Nicholson and Keaton know what Meyers wants just as much as they know the capabilities of their star power. Something's Gotta Give makes for an ideal meeting of the minds. B+