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And So It Goes

July 25, 2014
And So It Goes

A funny thing happened while I was watching And So It Goes. It’s not like jerk-gets-less-jerky is an uncommon trope in Hollywood movies, but what I saw really started to feel like a rehash of As Good As It Gets. There’s the rich Jerk with an uncommon name, the Nice Lady he interacts with with a jerkishness that slowly transmutes to affection, the cute pet/child, and other points that were more difficult to pin down but that all pointed my mind towards the other movie.

There are many thoughts that signal disappointment in a movie, like the bored frustration of “When will this thing be over?” Only slightly less damning is “This reminds me of another movie. Gee, that other movie was a really good movie. I wish I were watching that movie instead of this one.” If my memories of another movie triggered by your movie interest and entertain me more than the actual movie you’ve put on the screen in front of me, something is dreadfully wrong.

I also had another thought: to go out of my way to bring up As Good as It Gets as a better movie than And So It Goes might feel like kind of a jerk move on my own part. But as the lights came up I checked the credits; lo and behold, Goes was written by Mark Andrus, who had collaborated with James L. Brooks on the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Gets.

And then a lot of things made sense. This isn’t just a similar story, it covers the exact same ground. Oren (Michael Douglas) is a miserable human being despite his wealth and success. He’s got an ongoing spat with his neighbor, Leah (Diane Keaton), who stands in for both Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. That he lives next to the less-well-off lady is explained away: he actually owns the building she rents in, and he’s only staying there while he sells off his old mansion before retiring to the country.

Tragedy strikes when Oren’s estranged son shows up. He’s about to go off to prison, and needs Oren to take in his daughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins). Of course a curmudgeon like Oren wants to part of this, and Leah swoops in to help. The two start to fall for each other; Oren pulls some strings to help Leah become a club singer; Oren says and does stupid things, but they’re drawn together in the longer run.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that And So It Goes is just a retread of Andrus’ earlier work. It’s also yet another in Keaton’s series of comedies placing her opposite a rotating cast of similarly-aging male leads: The Big Wedding with DeNiro, Something’s Gotta Give with Nicholson, and others that crib heavily from Nancy Meyers.

And since it’s a romantic comedy by Rob Reiner it has to be shoehorned into his own rom-com formulas. His tricks worked like gangbusters for Flipped, or When Harry Met Sally, but here they flop. There’s something acidic and slightly desperate in the underlying story this movie shares with As Good as It Gets, and James L. Brooks can spin that into gold as we’ve seen over and over again through his career. Reiner can do sweet and funny, and even moving at times, but mean is just not in his bag.

The same goes for Douglas; he’s great at playing scheming and slimy, and every cinematic Wall Street scoundrel is just a pale imitation of Gordon Gekko. And while he’s competent as the snide misanthrope here, it’s just not fair to ask him to measure up to a role Jack Nicholson was born to play. It doesn’t help that And So It Goes spends so much effort trying to humanize Oren’s character, giving him tragic backstory that’s supposed to explain why he’s such a jerk now. Nicholson and Brooks had the confidence to just let Melvin Udall be selfish and angry and terrible to everybody and then make him earn our sympathies rather than buying them off with a sob story.

But that sort of overwriting is all over this script. Oren’s kid is going to jail, and he had a drug problem, but he has to be a sympathetic father figure so he can’t be going to jail because of the drug problem, so we have to have extra exposition to explain that it’s something else and he’s really a great guy. It feels busy and complicated and just so cloyingly needy to ingratiate itself to us.

There are many good influences coming into And So It Goes, and so on paper it might look like a great idea. On the screen, each one pulls in a different direction, and none of them blend very well. It makes for an uneven, dissatisfying experience, where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Oh well.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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