Something’s Gotta Give (6/10)
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.
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
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
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
Microsoft went down 4 points yesterday. I lost $10,000.
uproariously, and looks into Harry’s eyes.
know. I lost a bundle, too.
winks and gazes at Erica with lovesick eyes.
gonna sue my broker, the SOB.
looks fondly at Harry with love in her eyes.
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
This is so sad
because the first hour looks like they have a real winner. I laughed out
loud several times.
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
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.