Twenty-five years ago this month, When Harry Met Sally was released in theatres. The anniversary of what is arguably the Citizen Kane of the rom-com genre has prompted a lot of lamentation for an erstwhile art form, one that fell prey to a lethal cocktail of terrible scripts, tent-pole-obsessed studios and too much Katherine Heigl some time toward the end of the past decade. Since then, most filmmakers have been afraid to go near a lighthearted, guy-meets-girl script that doesn’t involve a caped crusader or a bromance, but then – pause for dramatic effect – Rob Reiner is not most filmmakers.
It sounds almost scripted, right? That the guy who gave us Harry and Sally and the most orgasmic sandwich scene ever should be the one to swoop in and reinstall the rom com to its rightful rank. And that he would do so with a movie that casts two actors of a certain age in the leading romantic roles, thereby debunking not one, but two of Hollywood’s most limiting taboos.
Even the origin story is picture perfect: The idea for And So It Goes came about during the press tour for The Bucket List (2007), another Reiner movie, co-starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as a couple of old dogs looking to get their kicks while they can. Of course, an interviewer asked handsome Nicholson about what was on his bucket list, and of course, Nicholson was on the charm offensive, answering: “One more great romance.” That this story is more emotionally riveting (never mind titillating) than the movie it inspired says something about the unassailable sex appeal of Nicholson. Unfortunately, it says more about And So It Goes, a movie that may appeal to boomer audiences this summer in an adequate, at-least-they’ve-got-air-conditioning sort of way, but the great silver hope of the rom-com genre? Far from it.
The script is a series of familiar tropes. Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is a crotchety, old rich guy – a seersucker-suit-wearing version of Ebenezer Scrooge, or the Grinch or Archie Bunker (complete with less funny racist ranting). There is a tidy reason for all of this over-the-top curmudgeonliness (he lost his wife to cancer), and occasional glimpses at a sense of humour, seen mostly in Oren’s sass-for-sass exchanges with his secretary Claire (played by the excellent Frances Sternhagen). For the most part, though, Oren is content to spend his life counting his bucks and assuming that all Mexicans are gardeners – that is, until his estranged son shows up to deposit his heretofore-unknown granddaughter, Sarah. Son is on his way to prison so nine-year-old Sarah is left in Oren’s care, despite the fact that he has as much childcare acumen as your typical, well, curmudgeonly, old, rich dude in a movie.
Enter Leah (Diane Keaton) a whimsical, maternal lounge singer who has also known the heartache of losing her spouse and who is a resident at the seaside beach resort owned by Oren. Leah assumes co-parenting duties despite the fact that she and Oren can barely stand each other … for now.
Douglas and Keaton have fun in roles where the acting requirements appear custom-made: The former has rarely felt boxed in by the need to play likable leading men; the latter has rarely felt the need to play characters that aren’t thinly-veiled versions of herself. Sterling Jerins, who plays Sarah, proves a surprisingly captivating Tiny Tim, which is good since the entire plot hinges on her ability to weaken the defences of her mean old grandpa so that he can eventually get it on with the nice lady next door. Not the “great romance” of Nicholson’s daydreams, but it’s a story where sex and being over 60 aren’t treated as mutual exclusives, which is pretty great in its own way.