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Friday, December 12, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Something's Gotta Give' Diane Keaton more roles like this one

Seattle Times movie critic

Twenty-two years ago, Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton had their first on-screen love affair, in Warren Beatty's "Reds." He was a playwright (Eugene O'Neill) with a carefully hidden sentimental side; she was the nonmonogamous free spirit who broke his heart.

Now, in Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy "Something's Gotta Give," the tables are turned — a radiant Keaton is the playwright (the fictitious but Wendy Wasserstein-ish Erica Barry) who gets her heart shattered; Nicholson is the happy philanderer, and they share a screen with the playfulness of old chums.

Something funny happened to Diane Keaton's career in those years since "Reds" — she went from being one of the screen's most honest and vivid actors (her glamour-free work as a betrayed wife in 1982's "Shoot the Moon" is nothing short of brilliant) to playing generic moms in forgettable, Disney-fied fluff like "Baby Boom" and the "Father of the Bride" movies. (The little-seen 1996 drama "Marvin's Room," in which an achingly soulful Keaton played a woman dying of cancer, was a rare exception.)

Movie review


Showtimes and trailer

***
"Something's Gotta Give," with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet, Frances McDormand. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers. 123 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity and strong language. Several theaters.

Keaton's fate isn't unusual for actresses who dare to develop lines around their eyes and mouth; what is unusual is how "Something's Gotta Give" provides a showcase for this fiftysomething virtuoso to laugh, cry, look fabulous and get romanced by not only an aging stud but a young hunk (Keanu Reeves). It's her movie, and she sparkles like that legendary diamond as big as the Ritz. Her trademark Annie Hall giggles and vocal wanderings have softened; she's here playing a grounded, intelligent woman who's nonetheless amused by herself and by life. And, like the great screwball comediennes of the past, Keaton can make crying funny (though Meyers relies on this far too much). In short, what we have here is an old-fashioned star turn, from the unlikeliest of sources.

Pity this performance can't be lodged in a better movie, but "Something's Gotta Give" is passable fantasy. Harry (Nicholson, doing a relaxed spin on his usual bad-boy routine), in the early scenes, is dating Erica's twentysomething daughter, Marin (Amanda Peet). He's a connoisseur of "the sweet, uncomplicated satisfaction of the younger woman," and he's so pleased with himself he practically sings all his lines.

But when a heart attack leaves him stranded at Erica's Hamptons beach house, he becomes intrigued by this smart, savvy woman who's close to his age — except that she's dating Harry's thirtysomething doctor (Keanu Reeves, playing perhaps the most laid-back physician in the history of cinema), who's equally smitten with her. Love, sex, heartbreak and the destruction of a perfectly nice turtleneck ensue.

Meyers is careful to keep her film as controversy-free as possible; in line with her previous light romance- and family-oriented comedies (she directed "What Women Want" and the "Parent Trap" remake, and wrote "Baby Boom" and the "Father of the Bride" movies, among others). Like those films, "Something's Gotta Give" is a creamy Hollywood confection that isn't meant to challenge anyone's comfortable ways of thinking.

The movie's few ideas (and they're not especially radical — for example, the theory that some men are threatened by and afraid of accomplished, mature women) are carefully put into the mouth of Erica's sister, Zoë. Played by Frances McDormand (whose talents are wasted here), she's dismissed as "a women's studies professor" and shuffled out as quickly as possible.

This, plus an unrelenting emphasis on butter-yellow walls and swanky white furniture (this is one of those movies where you walk out humming the dining-room chairs), does contribute to a certain blandness in the filmmaking, and in the hands of a lesser cast, "Something's Gotta Give" might have been a painful sit. But as a valentine to Keaton — and a rare romantic comedy in which both leads need glasses to see what time it is — it provides some long-overdue pleasures.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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