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Film Notes: Something’s Gotta Give

Written and directed by Nancy Meyers

I don’t know why I can’t stop watching romantic comedy films. It’s some sort of strange weakness. Perhaps it’s my lack of understanding of romantic impulses, the inventiveness of the ideas, the magic of the moment (even though I realise that it is not real – it is a lie about the thrill of the beginning of a relationship, the connection that drives the love, something which wanes in later life but film makes us believe that it is the only reason for two people being together). Like the films tell us, there are some things we cannot control.

My feeble attempt at justifying watching this was the cast – Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves, John Favreau, Frances McDormand, all in one film. That’s gotta be good, doesn’t it?

Jack plays a rich, eternal bachelor who is dating Peet, the daughter of Keaton’s divorced playwright. The mismatched couple go to Keaton’s place in the Hamptons for a naughty weekend, only for Keaton and her sister (a completely wasted McDormand, even if it is nice to watch her in anything – well, except for Aeon Flux, perhaps) to be there. Nicholson than has a heart attack and is forced by the local doctor, Reeves, to convalesce at Keaton’s house. During this time, the animosity that existed between Nicholson and Keaton develops into something more, only for silly plot machinations to get in the way so that there can be an excessively romantic ending in Paris.

The film is a traditional romcom but it’s made more interesting by the ‘What if … ?’ factor of the situation – what if Jack Nicholson stopped running around with women much younger than him and had a relationship with a woman he loved? (It’s a bit like the What If concept behind Notting Hill being the drive behind the story.) The role seems based on Jack, his non-commital nature, this charm, his obsession with younger women, yet with a sensitivity. The realness he brings to the role stops the character being one-dimensional. Similarly, Keaton brings an authority to her role, and the two of them share an amazing chemistry on screen – when it’s just the two of them in the ‘finding love’ stage of the film, their scenes are electric and natural, particularly in the beach scenes; it’s an absolute joy to watch, seeing two pros working their magic. It’s a shame that the film has to split them up with the story engine to get them back at the end – the film loses its sparkle when they are apart.

The rest of the cast are not exactly hard to watch but they don’t get well served. Reeves, who is used to stamping his character with an immediate sexiness but nothing else, is wasted and is not a natural in the romance role. But this is indicative of the casting – why is McDormand used in the small role of the sister other than to make it more real in the limited screen time? Favreau has about three scenes and five lines. Peet is a little more involved but it’s mostly as an excuse for Keaton’s character to come to New York just so she can see Nicholson with a younger woman after they have connected so that she can feel spurned and then write a play about their relationship and start something with Reeves doctor (who is infatuated with her, in a slightly stalker way).

Keaton give a very emotional performance – and not just for the nude shot, which didn’t seem necessary; the build-up to the joke had made it obvious that Nicholson had seen her naked, so there was no reason other than Keaton to show in what good condition she is, in a split-second, full-length bodyshot.

The film is charming and romantic in places, and it is lovely to see older people in a romantic film nowadays, even if the narrative loses momentum with the deliberately forced break-up at the end of Act Two. Not that Nicholson has taken any of it to heart …

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