With Jack Nicholson still enjoying his retirement, it falls to Michael Douglas to swoon over the oh-so-cutesy Diane Keaton in And So It Goes, a timid, elder rom-com in the same wheelhouse as the 2003 Nicholson-Keaton team-up, Something’s Gotta Give. A film of nothing but soft edges, director Rob Reiner’s mushy saga concerns real estate agent Oren (Douglas), who’s first shown paying his respects at his wife’s grave on her birthday — a gentle introduction that immediately neuters the subsequent portrait of him as an unrepentant jerk who likes to shoot lawn-crapping dogs with a paintball gun, treat prospective clients with racial/ethnic insensitivity, and complain about having to see the penis of a young kid who lives above him in his waterfront Connecticut fourplex.
Oren’s life is thrown for a loop when his former-addict son, Luke (Scott Shepherd), shows up on his doorstep and tells him that he’s going off to jail and, more earth-shattering still, that he’s leaving Oren to care for the 10-year-old granddaughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins), whom he never knew he had. If that sounds like a creaky means of kick-starting Oren’s transformation from prick to prince, it’s not as clumsy as the attendant symbolic subplot involving Sarah studying caterpillars’ metamorphosis. This science project is facilitated by Oren’s neighbor Leah (Keaton), a local lounge singer who’s prone to burst into uncontrollable tears during performances and who so quickly takes to Sarah that, only a day after the girl arrives, she’s already calling Leah “Grandma.”
Thus begins And So It Goes‘ slow, bumpy journey toward a predestined happily-ever-after in which Oren’s grumpiness and Leah’s weepiness are presented as two sides of the same lonely widower/widow coin, as well as manifestations of each character’s lingering unhappiness from their failure as a parent (Oren) or their missed opportunity to be one (Leah). In Sarah, Reiner (working from Mark Andrus’ hoary script) offers his protagonists a vehicle for their renaissance, as the girl’s arrival instigates a combination of cantankerous arguments and inelegant courtship. The latter includes Oren bedding Leah and then ditching her immediately after he’s climaxed (thereby unleashing Leah’s waterworks) — a moment that Reiner stages as a jokey illustration of Oren’s callousness but, like so much of the film, comes off as tone-deaf, caught uneasily between eye-rolling humor and clunky bathos.
Keaton doesn’t share the same feisty yin-yang chemistry with Douglas that she previously did with Nicholson, but that’s largely because And So It Goes never goes quite far enough, in any direction. Douglas’s Oren is meant to be a self-centered cretin, but he’s so frequently also depicted as a softie at heart that it leaves the character in limbo — where Keaton’s Leah also resides, thanks to a script that never pushes her far enough into maudlin-mess or lovable-and-motherly territory. Consequently, both protagonists feel as if they’ve been only partially conceived out of fear that, were they too unpleasant, flustered, or in disarray, they wouldn’t be able to fit together as tidily come film’s conclusion. With their prickly qualities smoothed over, Oren and Leah prove indistinct, and their story takes on the quality of a rough draft.
While Sarah expresses distaste for mayonnaise on her bologna sandwiches, Reiner seems to be a big fan of the condiment, slathering it across his camera lens to give And So It Goes a soft-focus visual smeariness that goes hand in hand with its hazy plotting. As contrivances pile up, so too do the groans, culminating — in perhaps the year’s most laughably dim scene — with Oren delivering a neighbors’ baby on his living room couch, hence further underlining his burgeoning fatherly skills. Through it all, earnest drama and wise-ass one-liners clash awkwardly while Reiner makes sure to toss in a few mentions of Facebook, texting, and iPhone video-editing apps so his target audience can feel somewhat clued in to the whippersnappers’ newfangled technology. The result is a lumbering attempt at sweet-and-saucy romance, all affected emotion and strained bad-boy humor, which is ultimately epitomized by the sight of Reiner himself (in a toupee-wearing supporting turn) clumsily slipping and falling on a lawn’s Slip ‘N Slide.