October 20, 2017

And So It Goes (2014, dir. Rob Reiner) – REVIEW

And So It Goes affords the opportunity of watching Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas, two adroit and expert actors, volley with one another, and that may be reason enough to see the film. They bring all they can to Mark Andrus’s insipid screenplay, but it’s like having two top-seeded tennis stars show up for Wimbledon only to be handed badminton racquets and shuttlecocks.

Keaton and Douglas acquit themselves gracefully, but it’s a major missed opportunity that for their first screen pairing these two—playing against the shallowness of the script and despite Rob Reiner’s perfunctory direction—were not given the means to create something more memorable. Even as a cinematic equivalent of comfort food, And So It Goes is undernourished and under-nourishing; it is only the stars’ performances that save the film from being as generic as its title.

Oren Little (Douglas) is a successful high-end real estate broker nearing retirement. He has also accrued a reputation for being hard-nosed, even curmudgeonly—and we learn that the death of his wife and troubles with his only child may be nudging Oren all the way to hopeless misanthropy. When his estranged son, an ex-junkie, has to serve (unfairly) a short prison stint, Oren is suddenly presented with his 10-year-old granddaughter Sarah, whom he doesn’t know. Oren has developed a tentative, prickly relationship with his tenant/next-door neighbor, Leah (Keaton). Widowed and still grieving the loss of her husband, she sometimes works as a chanteuse in nearby supper clubs and tries her best to find whatever positive moments and new opportunities life may bring. Leah takes the girl under her wing, and Oren begins, layer by layer, to unearth his buried humanity.

Much of the film industry has a tiresome habit of “discovering” new niche audiences,  cranking out a few pallid lookalikes, and then lumbering on to its next demographic epiphany. One wonders why it’s taken so long for producers to realize that many people of maturity grew up on movies and have not only free time but some disposable income. To its credit And So It Goes is not as ageist as the worst of its ilk—at least there are no tired and tasteless menopause or Viagra jokes. It views its characters not as old people but as people. Keaton and Douglas work hard to make them as complex and vital as they can, and one wishes the film had risen to the same level of endeavor.

Reiner’s direction is as artless as the script. Douglas is misdirected in one mercifully brief scene, and Keaton must occasionally fill a void by falling back on her stock of manic mannerisms. Reiner’s recent films haven’t been on a par with his better efforts (spirited outings such as This Is Spinal Tap, The American President, When Harry Met Sally, and The Princess Bride). Still, that he didn’t know better than to pick up this vapid screenplay, much less make it—and with such listlessness—is disappointing. Perhaps the package of Keaton and Douglas was too good to turn down, even in a saccharine property. If that’s the case it paints a fairly dire picture of what’s out there for some of our most seasoned talent.

Along with redeeming star-power the film’s assets include the beautiful coastal Connecticut locations; young Sterling Jerins, poised and unfussy in the small role of the granddaughter; and Tony-winning stage actor Frances Sternhagen, also known for her work in film and television, as Oren’s wiseacre office matriarch. She’s the only person around who’s gone verbally toe-to-toe with him over the years. This, too, is a very small role—and could easily have been better-tailored for the great veteran—but Sternhagen’s open-faced sarcasm and superb timing are very funny.

In the few scenes set in the local clubs and restaurants, Diane Keaton does her own singing. She’s fooled around over the years, but in this project she puts it legitimately on the line (and on the film’s soundtrack album). Throughout her career Keaton has continually honed her skills and broadened her range, and this new adventure has a sweet bravura. Like all the best cabaret singers she is first an actor. It’s not a large voice, but it’s mellow and it’s true.

– Hadley Hury

(Available through Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play and other select streaming sites)

 

 

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