Something’s Gotta Give (6/10)

 Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley

 In the old days, they never made movies like this. And there was a reason. In the old days, movies had pace, and were generally of reasonable length. When, in the old days, did they make a comedy that lasted more than two hours? It Happened One Night (1934) came in at 1:45. Of course Director Frank Capra was stuck with two stars, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, who wanted to be anywhere else but on the Columbia lot with Capra, shooting what they thought was a B picture. Gable was loaned to Columbia for the picture by Louis B. Mayer as a punishment. So, Capra had to shoot fast and get it over. The result was more Academy Awards than any film to that date.

In the old days, there was a writer, a director, an editor, and a producer. They were different people. And there was a reason for that, too. Writers fall in love with what they write. Directors fall in love with what they shoot. In an ideal world, editors should be independent and able to trash whatever doesn’t fit, no matter how much the writer or director might like it (but in reality the editor works for the director). But in the old days the Producer could make the final decision as to what the audience would like. There oughta be a law that writers can’t direct their own films, an ambiguous law, to be sure (hey, I’m a lawyer; we need work!). And Directors should never have final cut. Then we’d see the end of all these interminable films that could be much better with some editing.

In a nutshell, Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) is a shameless 63-year-old bachelor who never dates anyone over 30. He’s hustling Marin (Amanda Peet) and meets Marin’s mother, Broadway playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), who gets the hots for him. Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves) is a 32-year-old doctor who treats Harry and gets the hots for Erica. Then Harry gets the hots for Erica. That’s a good 90-minute movie that would have been terrific.

 Something’s Gotta Give has a good first hour. Then it comes to a screeching halt when the story strays from Nicholson and concentrates on Keaton and Reeves, who are no substitute for Jack, and stumbles through the next 15-20 minutes before it picks up to its Hollywood ending. There’s a lesson to be learned here. Maybe Keaton and Reeves are competent actors, but when you’ve got Jack Nicholson signed on, he should be in every scene possible.

 Instead, Writer-Director Nancy Meyers forgets Jack, forsakes pace, and the thing meanders on far too long. Worse, she inserts scenes I deplore. These are scenes where we watch the characters converse while time passes. We can’t hear what they’re saying but we know what the dynamics are. In the first such scene, Harry and Erica are falling for each other. They’re talking and laughing and having a great time. We can’t hear them, but there’s a kind of montage of cuts of them talking and laughing and bonding without discernable dialogue, although we can see their mouths moving. Whenever I see scenes like these, I imagine the dialogue as something like this:

Harry and Erica are sitting on the beach, picnicking. As both laugh, Harry raises a glass in toast.


                        Microsoft went down 4 points yesterday. I lost $10,000.

Erica laughs uproariously, and looks into Harry’s eyes.


I know. I lost a bundle, too.

 Harry winks and gazes at Erica with lovesick eyes.


 I’m gonna sue my broker, the SOB.

 Erica looks fondly at Harry with love in her eyes.


That’s a good idea. Who’s your lawyer?

So, what we’re seeing is two people falling in love. What they’re saying to each other isn’t what we think they’re saying because they’re acting as if they’re in a silent movie. And Meyers doesn’t just do this once. We’re subjected to it three times. THREE TIMES! What, two hours isn’t long enough to convey them falling in love through dialogue without inserting these insulting scenes? She couldn’t have cut something and still come in at a little over two hours and developed these scenes?

 This is so sad because the first hour looks like they have a real winner. I laughed out loud several times.

 Nicholson is, once again, terrific. He does some physical comedy that’s better than Jerry Lewis at his best. Equal to Jack is Frances McDormand (for my money, the most underrated actress in Hollywood), who plays Erica’s sister, Zoe. Unfortunately, she has only a few scenes at the beginning of the film, where it really clicks, and then a couple near the end. Had I been directing, I would have had McDormand play Erica and Keaton play Zoe.

 So, I have to explain my rating. The first hour is a 9. The next 20 minutes, mostly without Jack, are a 2. The last part is a 6. So I average it out as a 6. If someone had been smart enough to cut it down to 90 minutes and put Jack in every scene (and had McDormand play Erica), it would have been at least a 9, maybe a 10.

 December 10, 2003

 The End