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Love games: (l-r) Keaton and Reeves in Something’s Gotta Give.

They Ruined the Soufflé
By Laura Leon

Something’s Gotta Give
Directed by Nancy Meyers

Finally—an adult love story! It seems ages since we’ve been treated to a romance in which at least half of the dynamic duo doesn’t utter words like, well, “like,” every few moments. But with Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give, comes sophistication and the kind of glittering dialogue and easy rapport between costars that critics used to refer to as “a soufflé” (think Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in the like-minded Indiscreet).

Self-made media mogul Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) is, at 63, a confirmed and, indeed, renowned bachelor, whose success at avoiding “the marital noose” has been celebrated in magazines like New York. While cavorting with his much-younger gal pal Marin (Amanda Peet) in her mother Erica’s (Diane Keaton) palatial Hamptons home, he suffers a heart attack, the upshot of which—this is a movie, after all—is that he must stay at Erica’s place until he’s well enough to travel. Needless to say, the menopausal Erica, a renowned playwright, is none too pleased to have to play nursemaid to the loutish, cigar-smoking Harry, who disgusts her with his credo of dating only women under 30 (“less baggage”).

Again, this being a movie, these two opposites will attract, and the movie is at its best when depicting the gradual detente in their relationship. Nicholson and Keaton are greatly at ease with each other, which contributes immensely to their chemistry, which is both tempestuous and loving. When Harry’s doctor Julian (Keanu Reeves in an admirable Ralph Bellamy turn) takes an interest in Erica, Harry begins to see her in a new light, and the fun begins.

Unfortunately, following their night of passionate lovemaking and its somewhat uncomfortable aftermath, Erica and Harry become complete bores to the audience. While she is lit by the newly banked fires within, he, being in Meyers’ mind the typical guy, retreats in fear of what has happened and what it might mean. Subsequently, she goes on a scenes-long crying jag, meant to be funny, which culminates in the completion of her latest play, a thinly disguised attack on guys like Harry. While clearly the women viewers are meant to take grim satisfaction in seeing Harry’s alter ego played as a buffoon who meets a justified on-stage death, Meyers’ agenda is patently obvious and lacking in the effervescence that has come before.

Erica’s and Harry’s long—way too long—road back to each other is depicted as a lopsided conflict. As everyone in the movie says time and again, Erica is “a woman to love,” one of those perfect, funny, smart and successful people that anybody in his right mind would be stupid not to marry. Therein lies the problem. Poor Harry may be delusional when he thinks he can avoid commitment, or at least die trying by dating endless 20-something beauties, but he’s honest about that trait. Harry’s gun-shy attitude, following his astonishing realization that he, too, loves Erica, is played so as to make him look small and even ridiculous.

Would that Meyers had afforded her male protagonist a modicum of the respect and awe she proffers onto Erica: This might have been a much more compelling, meaty comedy. Then again, one can’t help but wonder how very different this film would have been if its love interests were not self-made millionaires but, say, a hospital administrator and a teacher living in the ’burbs.

The unhappy couple: (l-r) Milian and Cannon in Love Don’t Cost a Thing.

They Lied

Love Don’t Cost a Thing
Directed by Troy Beyer

Love Don’t Cost a Thing puts forth the noble proposition that “being yourself” is the surest way to personal happiness and fulfillment. Unfortunately, the actual story contradicts this notion at every turn of the plot. Specifically, the film is about American teenagers, and everyone knows that “being yourself” is the surest way to get smacked down in high school.

Boyish nerd Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) pines from afar for wealthy and hot Paris Morgan (Christina Milian). Alvin, unfortunately, is the Morgan family’s pool boy; he may be her classmate, but socially, he’s a serf. He looks like the modern equivalent of a serf, too, with his unruly afro and no-label clothes. Alvin and his geeky pals don’t even dare walk the hallway where Paris and the other cool (meaning also rich and attractive) kids have their lockers—though they pathetically leer at the girls from the end of the hall. When one does venture into the forbidden territory, he’s beaten like a serf who stupidly wandered into the manor house.

Pertinent question: Why are the rich hotties the only available females in the film? The only girls around are Paris and her model-quality friends; apparently there are no nerdy young women in the school. (I suppose if a few wandered in by mistake, their “inner hottie” would have to be revealed through appropriately skimpy outfits.)

Fate smiles on Alvin when Paris smashes up the grill of her mom’s brand-new Escalade. She can’t afford to fix it, but he’s a whiz with cars and luckily has the $1,500 on hand to pay for the replacement parts. There’s a catch: Paris has to pretend to be Alvin’s girlfriend for two weeks. Fitful hilarity ensues as the brainy engineer is first transformed by the amused Paris into a pimp-stylin’ playa decked out in Sean Jean designer duds, then brought down again by his egomania. This plays worse than it sounds, as often there’s no logic to the character’s behavior.

While Cannon struggles mightily with Alvin’s inconsistent personality turns, there are a few good performances to note. Milian does much better with the slightly more believable Paris. Milian is so good, in fact, it’s hard to believe she’s a pop singer. Steve Harvey is touching but not saccharine as Alvin’s dad, and Ashley Monique Clark is very funny as Alvin’s sister Aretha. (The screenwriters should have named the character “Dee,” as she is just like the younger sister on the ’70s TV show What’s Happening.)

Let’s cut directly to the obvious question: If Alvin had “been himself” from the beginning of the film, what are the chances that Paris, suitably bowled over by his sincerity, would have dumped her NBA-player boyfriend for him? Well, there’s an obvious answer: zero. This is a fairy tale, however, and fairy tales are lies. And because this isn’t a well-written fairy tale, the lies are not charmingly disguised.

—Shawn Stone

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