HARRY: I’ve never seen a woman that age naked before.
JULIAN: You’re kidding.
HARRY: Hey! We’re not all doctors, baby.
Harry Sanborn. Outwardly, he’s a wealthy, successful man, but his love life is a succession of shallow sexual relationships with women young enough to be his daughter. The lucky bastard.
The casting director of Something’s Gotta Give must have gone through a lot of actors before finding their Harry. Who in Hollywood could possibly essay the role of a charismatic bachelor with an almost pathological compulsion to have sex with beautiful young women?
“Hmm, just spit-balling here, but do you think we should take a chance on Jack Nicholson?”
The idea of Something’s Gotta Give is that Jack – sorry, Harry – is thrown together with a remarkable woman of his own age, Erica Barry (Diane Keaton). And he surprises himself by discovering that it’s possible to fall for a woman who stopped ovulating some years ago.
The movie is a huge pleasure. This is partly because it’s witty and clever, with a host of spot-on performances. But more importantly, it’s a rare romantic comedy where people past sixty not only fall in love, but also have sex. And it’s fulfilling, real sex, between people who have to put on their glasses afterwards to check the time.
Jack and Diane find themselves confined to a beach house which is just about the most desirable residence you’ve ever seen on film. (Due credit to production designer John Hutman, because this place could get the most heterosexual man in the world interested in interior decorating. You really wouldn’t want to put a drink down without a coaster.)
At the start of the story, Jack’s character Harry is going out with Erica’s gorgeous daughter Marin (Amanda Peet). The two of them arrive at the beach house for a weekend of inter-generational nookiee, only slightly put out to find that successful playwright Erica is there for the weekend as well.
Shortly after popping a Viagra and putting Marvin Gaye‘s Let’s Get It On album on the stereo, Harry starts experiencing shortness of breath and raging chest pain. Most us would think this is just what the prospect of sex with Amanda Peet does to you, but Harry is sufficiently experienced to realise it is something out of the ordinary.
After a dash to hospital, where it’s confirmed he’s had a cardiac episode, he winds up staying at the house to recuperate. And since he’s just broken up with Marin, the only obstacle to a romance with Erica is the attention of Harry’s doctor (Keanu Reeves), who is smitten with the playwright he admires.
Something’s Gotta Give has a female writer-director, Nancy Meyers, so we’re absolved from guilt if we laugh at the moment when Harry accidentally sees Erica naked and recoils, saying “I’m sorry… Oh God, am I sorry.” (In fact, Keaton is rather beautiful in a mature, real-woman kind of way, as you’ll observe if you fumble for your glasses and spend a few minutes fiddling with the picture search and freeze-frame controls, and maybe the brightness.) Meyers treats the characters even-handedly, so in return for seeing Keaton’s bod we have to suffer through the sight of Nicholson’s ageing butt in a hospital nightgown.
The middle of the movie, as Harry and Erica each begin to see below the other’s exterior, is a real pleasure. Nicholson is effortlessly charming, Keaton is as kooky and loveable as she was in Annie Hall in 1977. And when they finally repair to Erica’s bedroom, there’s a genuine emotional charge to one of the most uncommonly real love scenes ever to grace a romcom.
Maybe the film loses a bit of momentum later on. To avoid spoilers, let’s just say that the story continues after they leave the house and process their individual hang-ups. But I’m nit-picking somewhat.
In addition to the abundance of wit and charm, the film has a fine cast. Frances McDormand is terrific as Erica’s friend, an academic with antennae finely tuned to signs of societal sexism. Paul Michael Glaser is Erica’s ex-husband, not looking so very much older than he did in Starsky and Hutch almost thirty years before. And Jon Favreau – a few years before he became a director of billion-dollar grossing superhero movies – makes an impression as Nicholson’s right hand man.
On top of all this, there are lovely locations, cheery cinematography and even bright and breezy music from Hans Zimmer, in the days before every one of his scores felt like being crushed to death under a synthesizer.
I defy you not to be charmed.