During the press circuit for The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson revealed to reporters one item that was still lingering on his own – “one more great romance.” Years later that response prompted director Rob Reiner to take another stab at a romantic comedy. Half a century after he directed Meg Ryan’s overenthusiastic climax in a New York Deli, he’s roped in over-60s box office guarantees Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas as a pair of lonely singletons in rich, suburban Massachusetts. The ‘sexagenarian shenanigans’ genre clearly has more miles on its wheezing cinematic ticker.
From the screenwriter of As Good As It Gets, And So It Goes breezes on by like an inferior retread of the same story. But without the charm or ingenuity. A bitter realtor, Oren Little (Douglas) is a drunk driving douchebag. Everybody in his apartment complex despises him because he hates dogs that defecate on his lawn, he detests screeching children and most of all, he hates sharing his parking space. He’s Satan in $200 loafers.
It comes as no surprise that his neighbour, weepy lounge singer Leah (Keaton), is his kooky, fun-lovin’ antithesis. Keaton’s role was rewritten so her character could be a lounge singer. Perhaps that same rewrite also made room for her insistence on only wearing white ensembles. A move which draws attention to the ‘Annie Hallmark’ character she’s been happily typecast as for the past decade. And rightly so, as no other actress has committed to perfecting the likeable neurotic the way Keaton has. Like a fresh coat of paint on any performance from her recent back catalogue, Leah is a predictable alternative to Oren, as he isn’t neurotic or confused in the slightest. While Douglas too has made a career from playing to type (a variety of different bastards), his playful attempt at a curmudgeon is the perfect antidote to tedious romanticism.
Each mourning the loss of their spouse, the couple’s obligatory sniping and faux-hatred act as leverage for the obvious story about to unfold. His belligerent behaviour is a comical mask hiding the pain of losing his wife. Her constant blubbing at every available opportunity is a visual reminder of her grief. All of which is stirred up by the arrival of Oren’s former-addict son. Burdening the ogre with his granddaughter, he soon scoots off to serve an unjustified stint in the slammer, leaving the old man to deal with it.
You can spot Oren’s journey from sonofa-to-softie the second he’s faced with the type of responsibility that he has shirked for his entire stint as a father. But there’s a feeling of “so what?” lingering hesitantly at the close of every scene. What could otherwise have been a pathos-rich premise lacks any true sense of consequence. We know he is going to evolve into the good guy we all know he really is. We know he won’t really allow his cute granddaughter to spend a night with a junkie. Any slight hint at what passes for dramatic tension or originality is watered-down and diluted. Usually replaced by a cheap gag, and often at the expense of a minority.
The film can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a family drama, either. An addict joke is shoehorned in to temper the mood, making a tender exchange between Oren and his son embarrassingly awkward. The pensioner patois of the older cast oscillates between casual racism and misogyny, with a well-intentioned shrug of the shoulders as if to say “Too old to care about all that!”
That’s not to say Reiner has lost his touch for comedy. While the story tootles along toward its inevitable conclusion with the predictable plod of a tortoise, there are a slew of amusing set-ups and exchanges. The one supporting role to rise above the cliches is delivered by the brilliant Frances’ Sternhagen as Oren’s co-worker. She might appear to be a doddering, kindly old soul, and she likely is… beneath the chain-smoking, foul-mouthed persona who spits out her retorts with glee. Her brief scenes with Douglas relay the sharpest observations of ageing gracefully, and hint at what could have been for the remainder of the film.
Which is, all in all, executed perfectly because of the zappy chemistry between Keaton and Douglas. If you can forgive the heavy-handed attempts at humour early on that And So It Goes present, there’s a sweet love story beneath all of the bravado that’s just struggling to pull free. As Oren and Leah’s relationship flourishes from contempt to considerate to romantic, their experiences dallying with new love prospects are at times both tender and chucklesome.
And So It Goes is unlikely to bag any awards for originality. It hits the right notes to satiate an audience keen for sight gags and the un-PC rants of the over-60s, in a light 90 minutes that never strays too far from the established rules of the romantic comedy.