Posts Tagged ‘Amanda Peet’

From the Hootoo archives. Originally published 26th February 2004:

[Originally preceded by a review of a film so appalling I shall not speak its name here.]

And so, thankfully, we move on to Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give, a somewhat oblique title for a film which makes no bones about Having A Point To Make. Fortunately the chosen media take the forms of two of the most watchable actors still working, so it comes across as a lot less didactic than it might.

Jack Nicholson is not at all typecast as Harry, a sixty-something hip-hop tycoon and libidinous rogue, who has an eye for the ladies (specifically those under thirty). On a weekend trip to the family beach-house of his latest conquest (Amanda Peet) he is unfortunate enough to run into her formidable mother Erica (Diane Lah-Di-Dah Keaton) who takes a dim view of his womanising and generally raffish behaviour. It is just his luck to have a heart attack that same evening, and even worse that his cardiologist (Keanu Reeves – no, really, Keanu Reeves) prescribes that he should stay in the area till he recovers – the only available residence being with Erica. But, and you’d never see this coming, it seems that there’s a bit of chemistry between Harry and Erica. Could there possibly be romance on the horizon?

Well, my usual goodnaturedness has been mashed out of me by the previous film, so let’s not beat about the bush: Something’s Gotta Give is overlong and a bit smug and not nearly as witty or insightful as it thinks it is. The characters are almost exclusively wealthy and well-educated Caucasians, all with a quite staggering degree of emotional articulacy. Given that the central topic under discussion – the subtle charms of the older lady – does not exactly possess the same pressing urgency as climate control or international debt relief, it could be argued that this is a case of much ado about nothing. It’s also an openly partisan film: Nicholson is depicted throughout as a priapic old rogue who must mend his ways, and most of the central relationship is seen from Keaton’s emotional perspective. (There’s also the odd way that the Nicholson/Peet liaison is implicitly frowned upon while a Keaton/Reeves dalliance is swooningly approved of.)

However, these criticisms aside, this is a polished and mostly intelligent film, with some very funny moments (most of them courtesy of Nicholson). Most of these come near the beginning of the film, which rambles off into much more straightforward (not to mention sentimental) romantic drama territory as it goes on, losing much of its sharpness and wit along the way. As I mentioned up the page, it also seems about fifteen minutes too long.

It stays entirely watchable throughout, though, and this is mainly due to two perfectly-judged performances from Nicholson and Keaton, whose presence together was enough to remind me of Hollywood’s 70s golden age. It’s an exceptionally classy double-act, with Nicholson’s armoury of Jack-isms complementing Keaton’s more naturalistic turn extremely well. The two stars really get their teeth into the script and probably make it seem a lot sharper and more intelligent than it really is. Having said that, it’s difficult to judge whether Diane Keaton genuinely deserves her Oscar win/nomination (Shazz, delete one of these as applicable come Monday morning, would you?) [A reference to the fact this was originally published immediately prior to the Oscar ceremony – A] – she is good, but I suspect nostalgia has played its part, and in case she often seems to be recycling bits of her Annie Hall performance, for which she’s already won an Oscar.

Most of the rest of the cast aren’t that impressive, not getting the material the leads do. But Frances McDormand has her moments as Keaton’s sister, and Keanu… well, Keanu gets bulldozed off the screen by Nicholson, as you would expect, and my initial thought that he’d made the interesting choice of playing the cardiologist as a surfer-dude only lasted as long as it took me to remember that he plays every part – FBI agent, techno-Messiah, 19th century English lawyer – as a surfer-dude. But it’s nice to see he’s still getting work.

There’s nothing actually bad about Something’s Gotta Give – it’s polished, entertaining, amusing and articulate, and it’s driven by very assured performances from two bona fide movie legends. But it does take a long time to come to a rather predictable conclusion, and has very little of genuine originality to say for itself. A rom-com with a bit too much rom and not enough com, but still a film of some substance.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published June 26th 2003:

The ‘all-star cast’ movie has become something of a rarity these days, what with the ballooning salaries our leading actors demand making it financially rather more of a challenge to put one together. Then again, the fragmentation of cinema itself has made the definition of stardom rather broader than once it was – performers like Donny Yen and Bruce Campbell are legendary figures within their own genres, but largely unknown in the mainstream. Even in the old days, though, the really impressive cast-lists were usually restricted to international co-productions normally based on classic novels. Which makes the relatively well-known cast attracted to James Mangold’s quirky new thriller Identity all the more impressive.

On a dark and stormy night, a disparate group of people find themselves stranded in a motel in the Nevada desert. Amongst them are a limo driver (John Cusack) and his diva-ish employer (Rebecca de Mornay), a call-girl who has ambitions to become a market-gardener (Amanda Peet), a cop (Ray Liotta) and the convict he’s transporting (Jake Busey), and some troubled newlyweds (Clea DuVall and William Lee Scott), none of whom are strictly what they appear to be. One of them has been badly injured in a road accident and needs medical attention, but all communication has been cut off with the outside world. And an already grotty situation gets positively foul when it becomes apparent that a murderer is on the loose, and more than willing to hack and slash his way through the cast list…

As seems increasingly common these days, Identity draws from a wide range of sources for its scenario. The script itself obliquely refers to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is the most obvious donor, but there are also references to Psycho and other slasher movies, the post-Tarantino school of plot structure, and even (although I admit this is probably just coincidence) the last series of Sapphire and Steel. But it welds these various influences together quite pleasingly, into an indie-ish style of its own. There’s a lot of frantic cutting back and forth in place and time between various plotlines at the start, which isn’t particularly involving, but with the reassuring appearance of John Cusack the film settles down and rapidly becomes very enjoyable.

Much of this is thanks to a series of impressive turns from the cast, nearly all of whom get their moment to shine. To be fair to them, Cusack and Liotta are largely trading on their stock personae (deadpan laconicism with a dash of sensitivity for Cusack, unstable bullishness for Liotta), but they spark well off each other. Peet is particularly good in a fairly off-beat role, and I would’ve liked to have seen more of de Mornay’s faintly OTT over-the-hill star (hmm, that’s possibly a spoiler…). But Mangold’s direction is assured and atmospheric, and the script – initially at least – builds cleverly and carefully.

However, Identity is flawed – in that it sometimes seems just a bit too keen to clue the audience in as to exactly what’s going on. Mostly this takes the form of a series of apparently unconnected scenes involving a psychologist (Doctor Octopus, or – as I believe he prefers to be known – Alfred Molina) at a legal hearing, but there are lots of other small, revelatory moments that make it clear that something rather peculiar is going on. And most of them come just a bit too early in the film. In the past I’ve complained about good movies ruined by useless twist endings (Frailty leaps to mind as a particular offender) – Identity is a movie with not one but two actually pretty decent plot twists, the second of which actually half-surprised me (and this from a man who guessed the ending of The Sixth Sense). It’s just a shame Mangold and scripter Michael Cooney couldn’t have arranged their story so the surprises weren’t so obviously foreshadowed. (And I have to say that while I found the main twist to be engagingly innovative and quirky, it may just seem annoyingly silly and implausible to those of a less forgiving bent.)

But anyway. This is a fun and well-made film, loaded with solid performances and with a plot that it’s actually moderately tricky to guess the truth about. And any film where somebody says ‘You know, that story’s so far-fetched it just might be true’ immediately gets some goodwill from me. Enjoyable, in a low-key don’t-worry-about-the-details way.

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