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As Bad As It Gets: What Women Want Panderer Helps The Aged

Few contemporary names send more of a succubine chill down the discerning filmgoer's spine than Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Father of the Bride, Baby Boom), and so, for some, the menopausal screwball Something's Gotta Give will be regarded with the dread reserved for airborne viruses. Of course, it'll inhale cash (Meyers's films have reaped well over a billion), because it is pandering tripe, it is market-researched tosh, it is, as my grandmother used to say, happy happy horseshit. Directed with the comic timing of a tranquilized pig, the movie supposedly addresses the maddening differential between aging men (attractive to younger women) and aging women (not attractive to anyone). Jack Nicholson, being Jack, plays a blithely hedonistic bachelor who boffs only spring chickens and Diane Keaton is a buttoned-up divorcée-writer resigned to an empty bed. Meyers, who apparently fancies herself an expert satirist on the Mars-Venus blood feud, laboriously sets up the dynamic, then muddies the issue with Keanu Reeves's house-call-making Hamptons doctor wooing Keaton's flustered old maid. Nicholson, too, falls for her, creating a scenario that may seem freakish in Hollywood—two retirement-age people! hooking up! with each other!—but is actually the norm in the real world.

Trapped together for the movie's first half in a real-estate-porn beach house (I was hoping Bibi Andersson would show up and bite somebody on the arm), the two gray panthers spend most of their time hemming and hawing, Nicholson va-vooming every scene with his smirking growl and Keaton hooting and screaming and hair-flipping as if Bob Barker were grabbing her ass on The Price Is Right. The emphasis on the sexiness of the near-elderly is sweet, but Meyers is intent on through-the-roof goofiness. Thank the gods for Reeves—he's no Cary Grant, but there's an innocence and a precision to his performance that buries his over-seasoned co-stars.

Compared to the '30s comedies Meyers evidently reveres, the characters say precious little—often opting instead for a dead stare and shrug—and they say it so slowly. ("Erica. You. Are. A. Woman. To. Love," Nicholson's leathery Casanova coos, as if he'd slammed a fistful of Percodans.) Instead, they instant-message each other, fall in love, confront fears of commitment, and meander toward at least four different endings. Targeted at a "mature" demographic, Something's Gotta Give hunts for teen-level punchlines: aged-naked-ass shots, recoiling-at-older-women gags, and coy hard-on euphemisms.

Bibi Andersson and Bob Barker not pictured
photo: Columbia Pictures
Bibi Andersson and Bob Barker not pictured

Something does have to give, and that's the nine-figure public patronage of this kind of anemic, wit-free entertainment. Meyers's shakin' moneymaker isn't the worst film of 2003—no cat suits, for one thing—but something scarier: a standard-issue bog of glossy idiocy and audience disrespect. These stars may be eyeing the business-end of their working lives (Keaton, bless her, is 57 and looks it, fabulously), but for us, this is the future.

 
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