Our first feature, Something’s Gotta Give, garnered mixed reviews, but boasts real star power with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. In this Nancy Meyers helmed pic, we explore romances between older guy/much younger woman and older woman/much younger guy.
Sixty-something record company owner Harry Sanborn (Nicholson) is dating twenty-something chickie Marin Barry (Amanda Peet), and just as they are about to engage in some serious mufky-fufky at the supposedly empty Hamptons home of Marin’s mom, in walks the mom, playwright Erica (Keaton) with her feminist sister Zoe (Frances McDormand-sadly underutilized). Since this is a movie, next thing you know Harry has a heart attack, and even though he seems to make a miraculous recovery, he must convalesce at Erica’s house.
This gives us the opportunity for not one but two gratuitous nude scenes. There’s Harry’s bare butt peeking through a hospital gown, and a fleeting full frontal glimpse of Erica. At least it wasn’t Kathy Bates. Throw into the mix young medico Dr. Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves) who has the hots for Erica, along with Marin’s sudden willingness to get rid of Harry, and we’ve got the inevitable sexual tension between Erica and Harry, plus a few too many references to the infirmities of age.
The denouement proves that crapola will out. Erica cries herself through writing a new play based on her failed romance with Harry—and it becomes a hit. A number of months pass, and Erica is off to Paris with Julian. Harry shows up, Julian conveniently leaves, and the two age appropriate characters get together at the end.
So what’s not to like? Plenty, actually.
Nicholson’s performance is far from convincing; most women would tend to avoid having sex with a man who dated their daughter—even if the daughter assures them that they were never intimate; it’s hard to swallow that a Broadway playwright could be as rich as Erica appears to be, given the market these days; obviously Jewish characters (at least Erica and Zoe) are portrayed as WASPs; and Erica dumping Julian for Harry just underscores the cardboard nature of all the characters in the film except for Zoe.
But the biggest pretense is the closing scene with the proud grandparents posing with Marin’s new family. A super-neurotic uptight artiste and Viagra-addled playboy can blow years and years of their lives, and still end up like a Norman Rockwell painting? About the only thing real in the script is that 60-something guys can get heart attacks.
But the far bigger crime is with our second feature, In America, universally praised by the critics. This pic deals with the 1980’s saga of a family of illegal aliens, originally from Ireland, sneaking into the US via Canada. Dad Johnny (Paddy Considine) wants to make it as an actor in the Big Apple (doesn’t everyone?), but I guess no one told him about New York’s excellent public transit system, or even the existence of the outer boroughs, so the group settles into a horrific Manhattan Westside slum, replete with drug addicts, hookers, and Mateo (Djimon Hounsou), a big scary Black guy from another country.
There’s all sorts of family values what with mega-understanding wife Sarah (Samantha Morton-always great, but why the butch haircut?), if you don’t mind that the kids are playing with the junkies and roaming free on the mean streets, and that Johnny nearly blows all the money they have to win a crappy little ET doll at a local carnival, or that he isn’t exactly the ideal provider. Let’s not forget wise-beyond-her-years Christy (Sarah Bolger), the older daughter who spends way too much time taping everything on her (too modern for the era) video camera. And, all of them, including little sister Ariel (Emma Bolger), are haunted by the tragic loss of their baby brother Frankie, back in Ireland.
So…what to do? Well, the parents could suddenly remember that they are Catholic, and get pregnant, and that pregnancy could be problematical and costly. It’s interesting that despite this phony pro-life interlude, there is not a single reference to the Faith in the pic. Indeed, at moments when any Catholic would say a prayer, Christy instead conjures up the three wishes that little Frankie will grant from on high. Maybe this is just a new twist on the Communion of the Saints.
There is also a glaringly stupid incident that takes place in the daughters’ parish school. During Halloween festivities, only the two girls are decked out in homemade costumes, much to their embarrassment. Let me assure you that a parish in that kind of neighborhood would have MANY poor kids, and if all this is supposed to be a swipe at the Church, director Jim Sheridan fires a big dud.
As Sarah’s medical expenses mount up, with no way to pay for them, Mateo warms up to the girls, and is revealed to be dying of an unnamed disease, that we recognize as AIDS, even though Mateo looks like the most robust guy dying of AIDS in medical history. Now, both Sarah and Mateo are in the hospital, and as the new baby struggles to live, Mateo dies (how symbolic). As our family checks out of the hospital, their entire large bill has been paid by Mateo (how convenient). It’s not every rich AIDS sufferer who lives in a miserable tenement, after all.
So why did the critics eat this slop up?
Easy. First and foremost, there was a Black guy with AIDS in it, suffering through the evil Reagan administration. True Catholic theology was replaced with fairy tale dime-store mysticism, and we did have that “Circle of Life” thing. Several 60’s flower-child songs peppered the score, and there were so many victims.
Victims, yes, and not a single sympathetic character in the entire movie, except for a truly unbelievable rich AIDS patient, who looks like an NFL player, and lives in a dump, just so he can be there for our hapless illegal alien family.
And they say it’s difficult to get a film made…