It's dreadful from its start -- a parade of beauties sashaying in slow motion to illustrate how divine it is to be female and 25 and the object of the septuagenarian male gaze -- to its lovers-in-the-snow finish (oh, trust me, I'm not giving a thing away!). Nancy Meyers' film is an exercise in pandering -- pandering to male Hollywood conceit about May-December romance, to hackneyed romantic comedy conventions (please cue Paris), to what she reckons women want.
Oh yes: What Women Want, the last film Meyers wrote and directed, a big icky stew of whiny uptight young women who "needed" the smarmy Mel Gibson to read their minds in order to better effectively bed them that compounded my sputtering outrage by subsequently raking in zillions of dollars.
Here, Meyers updates the what-women-really-need-is-a-good-shtupping-and-what-men-need-is-to-discover-their-sensitivity angle for the AARP set. You can almost taste her self-congratulatory tone, as she has discovered the obvious -- old people love too! -- and now she is just right proud and privileged to hammer it into our tiny heads. Those would be our tiny heads clogged with too many other crappy movies where only beautiful young people fall in love.
Rascally (i.e. offensive mitigated by winking) mid-60s bachelor Harry (Jack Nicholson) motors off to the Hamptons on a nookie run with his latest gorgeous under-30 hottie, Marin (Amanda Peet). Their weekend getaway is foiled when the trysting spot -- an oceanfront super-sized cottage -- is in fact occupied by its owner, Marin's mother Erica (Diane Keaton) and her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand). Harry gamely stays, sparring with the appalled Erica and Zoe, who as the film's other middle-aged woman appears to coded as gay (sloppy look, women's studies teacher).
That night, Harry suffers a heart attack while canoodling, an awkward set-up designed in part to prevent Harry from getting it on with Marin, so that later when he inevitably puts it to Erica, there won't be the distasteful Jerry Springer moment reminding us he got it on with both mother and daughter under the same roof. Equally convenient, the local doctor (Keanu Reeves) prescribes an extended recuperation for Harry at the beach house with the hateful Erica. Zoe and Marin flee back to Manhattan (wait for me!) and our plodding courtship begins.
Besides constructing a tale utterly dependent upon an insulting presumption that men don't find women over 30 to be desirable -- not even a successful grounded playwright like Erica -- Meyers exhibits very little skill at executing a comedy. It's talky to the point of wearisome, and filled with little cute test-marketed quips and fantasy scenes ripped from the pages of Martha Stewart Living: Let us pour wine and play Edith Piaf and collect only the most specific sorts of pretty rocks along the beach. Then, there's those momentum-killing exchanges of e-mail. For pity's sake -- act how you feel, don't make us scroll through your Instant Messages.
Every joke gets rung three times. Meyers lets Keaton run amok with her very worst acting quirks (her extended howling scene would have been cut from any high school dramatic production). We're supposed to find it entertaining that Harry is a send-up of Nicholson's real-life persona. Nicholson simply comes across as smug (can this really be called acting?) and all of his patented face aerobics -- smirks, grimaces and eyebrow contortions -- meant to denote puckishness mostly make Nicholson look like Jabba the Hutt.
Meyers' technique is so clumsy (or she reckons we're so dense) that not only does she make the frigid Erica wear turtlenecks in summer, but she spells it out several times and makes us endure a teeth-on-edge seduction scene where Erica asks -- no, begs! -- Harry to cut off her turtleneck. This interminable bedroom scene that technically should have had us wistfully rapt and fantasizing about tackling the mountain of preternaturally tanned and hairy blancmange that Harry resembles instead had members of the audience commenting loudly on how gorgeous the sheets were.
The film drags itself through several false conclusions, all of which would make better stopping points than where we do finally end up. At one of these sort-of ends -- seemingly hours into the film -- Harry says, "I don't know how to be a boyfriend." It was then I realized we were watching a teen romantic comedy re-cast with folks on the backside of middle age.
And that only served to remind me how trifling this whole exercise had been. In teen movies, it's rilly rilly important that the couple afraid to fall in love get together in time to attend the senior prom as a happy unit. But realistically we know that after that, they'll grow up already and go their separate ways. That's partly why we accept the silliness of their courtship -- after all they're only kids, and they'll mature out of this sobbing and mooning about and failing to commit. Depicting a man in his 60s becoming a well-adjusted twentysomething is more pathetic than funny.