To get the obvious out of the way first: Something's Gotta Give is a film designed to appeal to older women, and it very likely will. Diane Keaton gives a good performance in it as a post-menopausal playwright who gets back in touch with her libido. The movie will probably make lots of money.
Not that it really deserves to. Everything about Something's Gotta Give can be deduced by looking at its poster, or even by a vague passing knowledge of its stars, Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Keaton in real life is a single woman who opined in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview that she'll probably never get married; Nicholson an aging jet-setter who rarely dates women older than 30. It's pure fantasy to imagine Keaton or someone like her breaking Jack of that habit, but fantasy is why we have movies, right?
If the wish fulfillment is truly one for older women, though, why have Keaton end up with Nicholson when she could have Keanu Reeves? Playing a 35-year-old doctor infatuated with Keaton's character, Erica Barry, Reeves, believe it or not, actually appears to be acting. Perhaps he's just relieved that no one's jerking him around on wires or jamming power cords into the back of his head anymore, but his relaxed performance here ranks among his very best, and that's a short list. Anyway, his character is genuinely nice to Erica and really attracted to her from the get-go, but apparently even older women prefer the bad boy: Nicholson may be obnoxious and sleazy, but once again, he's faced with a woman who makes him want to be a better man, and that worked out well for him a few years back, so behold the same shtick anew. Apologies for blatantly using movie titles in sentences like a quote whore, but it's apropos here: This kind of by-the-numbers performance truly isn't As Good As it Gets, and indeed, one imagines Something's Gotta Give. (This title, by the way, is utterly meaningless; nowhere in the movie does anyone say it or refer to it as a theme.)
The most amusing thing about this alleged comedy is the way the MPAA has ended up tacitly proving the film's point, namely that society wrongly assumes older women can't be sexy. To wit: Diane Keaton actually delivers a full frontal nude shot...and the movie gets a PG-13 rating! If Amanda Peet, who plays Keaton's daughter, did the same, it would have been an instant R (see The Whole Nine Yards and Igby Goes Down). The ratings board apparently assumes naked middle-aged women aren't as problematic for children to see as those of a younger age. Is this because Jack Valenti and company assume it won't be considered erotic? One hates to put words in anyone else's mouth, but it's hard to draw any other conclusions.
One curious aspect of Nicholson's character, Harry Sanborn, is that he's supposed to be the CEO of a hip-hop label called Drive-By Records. Let that sink in for a moment. Jack Nicholson. Listening to hip-hop. Cue bad flashback to Steve Martin trying to talk ebonics in Bringing Down the House. Wonder if writer-director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want) knows the first thing about hip-hop--for one thing, there doesn't appear to be any on the soundtrack, and no, Crazy Town's nu-metal hit "Butterfly" doesn't count. If you're a real glutton for punishment, or just a fan of celebrity novelty songs, stick around for the end credits to hear Jack Nicholson sing "La Vie en Rose." No joke--apparently there was a karaoke scene that got (mercifully) deleted from the final cut, and the song has been preserved for your, uh, enjoyment.
So anyway, Nicholson's dating Amanda Peet in this movie, but right as they're about to consummate the relationship in her mom's beach house, he starts getting chest pains. Mom (Keaton) and her best friend Zoe (Frances McDormand, who proceeds to disappear from most of the movie) have shown up to embarrass everyone, and they get the old man to the hospital in time, where Doctor Keanu tells him he isn't in good enough shape to travel. This wacky contrivance ensures that ol' Jack ends up staying at Keaton's house, where his bull-in-a-china-shop manner can slowly melt into true love.
And then...more stuff happens. The movie comes to a natural end. But wait! It keeps going. Then it ends again...wait, no. Hold on, here's the real climax...ah, dammit! When does this thing end? Is it over yet? Here's a hint: If the ending appears to be one you wouldn't have predicted, the film hasn't finished.
Nicholson seemed to be on the right track last year in the rightfully acclaimed About Schmidt, so it's a shame to see him slumming for an easy paycheck here. Keaton can't be blamed, really; she's utterly convincing and charming, first as a guarded woman with an acidic wit, then as a mature woman feeling the giddiness of love again for the first time in a decade or two. If only the movie deserved her. Meyers' script might as well be nonexistent--allowing Keaton and Nicholson to improv would work better than some of the more obviously staged bits, such as a near-endless montage of crying scenes that's supposed to play as the height of hilarity but in fact makes you fumble for some imagined remote control that might possibly have a mute button.
Still, as a date-night movie for women of 50 or thereabouts, chances are it'll do the trick.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.