Something’s Gotta Give (2003) 8/10
When Marin Barry (Amanda Peet) brings her much-older boyfriend (Jack Nicholson) to her mom’s home in the Hamptons, she doesn’t realize that mom—renowned playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton)—is there with her sister (Frances McDormand). When Harry (Nicholson) has a heart attack, Erica is stuck nursing him. Soon she is being wooed by both Harry and his handsome young doctor (Keanu Reeves).
Something’s Gotta Give is a flawed movie. Writer/director Nancy Meyers has an awkward hand with exposition. When she wants to tell you something, she tells you. Early, establishing dialogue has Erica using words like “misogynist” as a verbal American Express Gold Card; providing admission to all the right places. There are awkward early scenes where intellectual credentials are being established; I find it grating that in an group of smart, literate people, Zoe (McDormand) can only talk about sexism and cultural perceptions if someone apologetically explains that she’s a professor of Women’s Studies at Columbia. An aside like that manages to be simultaneously snooty and demeaning. Snooty, because look how smart and white we all are! Demeaning, because her academic credentials are treated like a tic; don’t mind her, she’s a feminist. Regular people don’t say such things, only professors of women’s studies, nudge nudge wink wink say no more.
For all of that, Something’s Gotta Give really does have something to say about women and men and aging and relationships, and it says it with the most soulful and natural performances I can imagine. Nicholson and (especially) Keaton are a dream.
There’s a scene where Erica is crying. She’s crying with total abandon, fully, voluptuously. It’s marvelous to watch; touching, funny, and very real. She’s not in the first moment of shock, she’s not overdramatizing for an audience, she’s just not censoring herself. She’s “processing;” she’s letting the feelings—grief, anger, loss—wash over her, without ever saying to herself “Okay, that’s enough, now.” Later, there’s a conversation with her daughter about letting yourself have deep feelings, even at the risk of grief, and the dialogue is rancid, stiff, trite, but Keaton sells it because we saw her live it.
Not that every moment of dialogue is bad; much is quite good. Nancy Meyers just doesn’t know how to write the conversations where you’re Making A Point®. Fortunately, with a cast as good as this, you can get over the bumps and love the movie.
The thing is, Meyers’s point is worth noting. Zoe points out that Harry, as a wealthy heterosexual bachelor, is considered fascinating, dashing, and enviable. But Erica, equally wealthy, equally successful, equally single, is, socially, pitiable. Being “of a certain age,” she is undesirable, despite her talent and beauty, and a man her own age is dating her daughter.
But then the movie throws us a curve ball, by having the very gorgeous, very young Julian (Keanu Reeves) fall for Erica. And what works about that is how Erica just can’t believe it. She’s sort of trying to correct him; ‘No, no, you don’t want to date me, you haven’t realized that I’m old. You haven’t realized that I’m not attractive. You haven’t realized that you want a beautiful young woman.’ And what that does is remind us what it feels like to be living in the skin of a social phenomenon. It’s not about a feminist theory, it’s about a beautiful, successful, brilliant woman who doesn’t trust that it’s okay to be pursued, okay to be desired, okay to be sexy and sexual and in love.
Thing is, I relate. I’m not rich, and I’m not Diane Keaton, and I’m not even in my fifties, but I’m a successful writer in my forties and I see how the success works as a turn-off, and more than that, I see how I fear it works as a turn-off. I see how I get lost in noticing that I’ve aged, and become absorbed in the thought that I can’t possibly be attractive because look! Crow’s feet! In her richly expressive performance, in the delicate way she allows self-doubt to play across her face, Keaton is embodying something very real, very present.
Now, Keaton is thin, so she doesn’t get the public excoriation that Kathy Bates suffered for nudity in About Schmidt, but it’s still remarkable how rare it is to see an older woman be sexual, be nude, and be, well, wrinkled. Not only are women never allowed to have relationships past 35 in the movies, they certainly aren’t allowed to look past 35 no matter what. Keaton hasn’t had a drop of plastic surgery. There are lines. And wrinkles. And small flaws. And that, in itself, is a stunning act of beauty. She is so wonderful to look at on-screen, because she’s not all shiny and plasticine. Simply starring in the film is a feminist act that thumbs its nose at a film industry that would make her disappear if it could.