The premise of Nancy Meyers's romantic comedy is so sure-fire it's amazing (though not really surprising, given how close it cuts to home) that Hollywood hasn't tackled it before. While dating a sexy twentysomething girl, an old rake famous for never dating any woman over 30 finally falls in love. Not with the girl, however; with her mother. This is a concept a few million women are going to find irresistible.
In "Something's Gotta Give," Jack Nicholson is the horny, Viagra-assisted old dog Harry Sanborn, a successful, never-married 63-year-old entrepreneur who never seems to work. Amanda Peet plays the lithe young art auctioneer Marin he's hoping to seduce at her family's beach home in the Hamptons. Diane Keaton is her divorced mom, the svelte, famous playwright Erica Barry, who wasn't supposed to be at the house this weekend. That's the first curve Harry is thrown. Then, on the verge of seducing Marin, he collapses with a heart attack, and is forced to recuperate under Erica's reluctant care. Most disorienting of all, he gradually finds himself falling for her. Complicating matters further, his dashing young doctor (Keanu Reeves) also goes gaga for this older woman. Can a commitment-phobic old goat, shaken by his brief encounter with mortality, learn how to love an age-appropriate woman? And can she let a man into her heart again?
Erica challenges Harry in a way he's not used to. "You're flinty and formidable," he tells her with growing admiration. The problem is, as Keaton plays her, Erica is neither of these things. She's girlish, skittish, self-denigrating... in other words, she's Keaton in Annie Hall mode. Since the point of the comedy is that Harry appreciates Erica because she's an adult, this throws the movie askew. Though the part was written for Keaton, it seems to call for a Jane Fonda or Sigourney Weaver or Meryl Streep. But if Keaton is miscast--or misdirected--she has wonderful moments once Erica's defenses come tumbling down. Bursting into tears of joy, relief and gratitude after so many years without sex, she's heartbreakingly vulnerable.
Given the subject, "Something's Gotta Give" could have been savage, but Meyers ("What Women Want") takes a sweet-natured approach. The credit for this must be shared with Nicholson, who plays a vain man without any vanity. Baring both his sagging butt and his panicked soul, he's more than willing to make a fine fool of himself. Meyers drags the movie out too long (two hours plus), piling on obstacles to throw in her lovers' path, and her pat resolution of Marin's romantic dilemma is insultingly perfunctory. Yet the movie, which ricochets between farce and poignancy, casts just enough romantic pixie dust to leave you smiling. It's certainly not the last word on the subject, but it's an amiable start.