Diane Keaton is so rarely in movies anymore that seeing her in even the half-baked Something’s Gotta Give is a blessing. As Erica, a long-divorced Broadway playwright who is having trouble with her new opus, she seems to be relishing her ample screen time as much as we are; her goosey comic style lets us know that Erica, successful as she is, doesn’t take herself too seriously. If you’re a movie star—and Keaton, in terms of the impression she leaves, most certainly still is one—a little self-deprecation can go a long way. It frees you up to capture those squiggly, intuitive character moments that the divas never achieve.
Blame Keaton’s slowdown on the insidious Actress Over 50 syndrome. (Actually, it’s more like Over 30; any minute now, producers will be reckoning Reese Witherspoon a bit long in the tooth.) Rather than play supporting roles or go to the killer effort of developing one’s own, often unbankable projects, some of Hollywood’s finest actresses have, in varying degrees, opted out of the game. (Debra Winger is the most alarming example.) By appearing in Something’s Gotta Give, which was written and directed by Nancy Meyers (What Women Want), Keaton is at least taking on material that confronts ageism, even if the confrontation has all the impact of a pillow fight. Her co-star is Jack Nicholson, whose satyr eyebrows usually do their dance for women half his age. Here he’s playing Harry Sanborn, a never-married hip-hop record-label tycoon who is romancing Erica’s daughter, Marin (Amanda Peet). In an attempt to soft-pedal the material’s inherent smarminess, Meyers makes it clear that these two are not yet sleeping together. When Harry ends up in bed with Erica instead, Marin approves. Just your typical mother-daughter relationship.
What’s more, it takes a coronary for Harry to hook up with Erica. Recuperating in her Hamptons beach house, he finds himself alone with her. They take seaside walks, laughing all the way, picking up pebbles. Erica’s brainy sister, Zoe (Frances McDormand in a too-small cameo), thinks Harry’s “got something,” and pretty soon he and Erica are making pancakes and whoopee. The kicker is that, while all this is going on, Erica is being seriously wooed by Harry’s doctor, Julian (Keanu Reeves), whose total fixation on her makes you suspect he’s a gigolo. But no: He’s in the movie so we can see that, for a change, the older woman can entrance the younger guy and give a randy codger like Harry his comeuppance. This subplot isn’t very convincing, but that has less to do with the actors’ age disparity than with the fact that Keanu Reeves still seems to be caught in the Matrix. He’s so cooled out he’s practically holographic.
Except for briefly in Reds, Keaton and Nicholson have never worked together, and, in a sense, they still haven’t. They look great side by side, but Meyers puts them through so much middling slapstick it’s like they’re auditioning for a Fox sitcom. They never settle into an easy rhythm because Meyers doesn’t trust quietness or subtlety. (And both actors can be plenty soulful.) This is the kind of comedy that relies on such visual punch lines as a shot of Nicholson’s bare ass in a hospital gown. The heart-tug moments are equally blatant: We are supposed to see that Erica’s passion for Harry enables her to experience what she once only wrote about; Harry the reformed playboy declares that, at last, he gets what love is all about.