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Photograph by Bob Marshak

Long Walks on the Beach: Jack Nicholson discovers someone closer to his own age (Diane Keaton) to romance in 'Something's Gotta Give.'

Old Love

Old bachelor Jack Nicholson discovers unfamiliar feelings for wounded divorcee Diane Keaton in 'Something's Gotta Give'

By Richard von Busack

ONE CHOICE facing actresses is whether to keep their faces or not. Diane Keaton kept hers; she didn't have a lot of "work done," and as a result of those wrinkles, you've been seeing less of her onscreen. But a sense of well-worn age isn't enough--you can't merely presume on an audience's gallantry. Happily, Something's Gotta Give isn't just about stirring the old embers of the crush America had on Annie Hall. In the slightly forced but basically appealing farce, Keaton plays a famous playwright named Erica, who is on vacation in the Hamptons. She's saddled with a guest who is recuperating with a minor heart attack. The ill man is her daughter's suitor: an old bachelor named Harry (Jack Nicholson), known in the magazines as "the escape artist" for his refusal to get married. As per the song, the "irresistible force meets the immovable object" during a summer thunderstorm. The two get into bed, and the question is where it goes from there.

Director Nancy Meyers keeps this story crisp, especially in the sharp casting of the daughter, Marin (Amanda Peet), who lets go of her unconsummated thing with Harry, without hard feelings. I like Peet's gawky, unstudied laugh, her sense of merriment. In ways the audience won't notice, Peet takes the burden off of Nicholson, making him look less like an old goat. (Obviously, Meyers' film plays off of Nicholson's real-life reputation as a cradle robber.) As a doctor with a thing for Keaton's character, Keanu Reeves is perfectly cast as a nice bland younger guy, a Gen-X Ralph Bellamy. As always, Reeves' smooth, toneless voice sounds like the ones used to dub the Tokyo citizens in a Godzilla movie. Frances McDormand is, by contrast, useless as Keaton's sister. This movie insists that a women's-studies professor would find something piquant about an old man's chauvinism.

Something's Gotta Give isn't tied to the Nora Ephron romantic comedy equation: These people are meant for each other--who cares if they have no shared values? Its rationale is slightly better: These people have no shared values, but they're in the same league. Why does the modern romantic movie indicate marriage isn't about maturity but mortality; why would anyone want to get married if it just symbolizes being one step closer to the grave?

Still, watching one scene of Harry looking through Erica's photo album, we can do the math: Nicholson and Keaton played lovers in Reds in 1981. Something's Gotta Give trades expertly on decades-old feelings for these two performers. Keaton's dithering charm has a new steel and a new vulnerability (she's deeply amusing in a montage where she sobs her heart out), and Nicholson evinces a credible reluctance to give up his old playboy ways. One scene is almost great: an argument on a New York street where Harry stands his crumbling ground. Something's Gotta Give made me laugh, and I didn't expect that. What I really didn't expect (particularly after the awkward first act) was that it would be so touching.

Something's Gotta Give (PG-13; 123 min.), directed and written by Nancy Meyers, photographed by Michael Ballhaus and starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, opens Friday valleywide.

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From the December 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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