A Little Movie ‘Bout Jack & Diane Proves Oldies Like Sex, Too

Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give , from her own screenplay, plays like an old-fashioned star vehicle disguised as a dissertation on the battle against aging and its eternal gender warfare. As befits the limitless grandiosity of the season, Something’s Gotta Give qualifies as an epic sex comedy full of contemporary nymphs and satyrs. Jack Nicholson is flauntingly introduced as playboy/philosopher Harry Sanborn, an old goat cavorting with Marin (Amanda Peet), a young looker who could pass as his daughter or even his granddaughter. Harry claims that he’s never dated a woman over 30, and Marin serves as a nubile playmate, though the movie is strangely vague about how far Harry and Marin actually go in their erotic escapades.

As the film begins, Harry and Marin are driving to her mother’s beach house in the Hamptons, thinking that they will be blissfully alone. When Marin’s mother, Erica Barry (Diane Keaton), arrives unexpectedly with her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand), Harry is literally caught with his pants down-though not in flagrante delicto -foraging in the fridge. Since this is a farce constructed at least partly on misunderstandings, Erica immediately assumes the worst and starts calling the police on her cell phone to report a crazed burglar in her home.

By the time Erica realizes that Harry is actually her daughter’s boyfriend (with said daughter wearing nothing but a rather fetching bathing suit), everyone decides to be grown-up about the situation and go about their business.

This may not constitute “meeting cute” for the two stars, but Ms. Keaton at 57 and Mr. Nicholson at 63 are considerably older than Hollywood’s romantic couples of yesteryear-seldom did they stray beyond their 20’s and 30’s, and not even within hailing distance of 40. You have to go back to Marie Dressler (62) and Wallace Beery (only 46) in Min and Bill (1930) to find two Oscar-winners of such advanced age engaged in any kind of onscreen relationship. By contrast, Oscar-winning lovers Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable were 31 and 33 when they appeared in Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). Fortunately, neither Ms. Dressler nor, for that matter, Ms. Colbert were allowed to appear in the nude, as Ms. Keaton does fleetingly here, and neither Mr. Beery nor Mr. Gable were required to bare their backsides in a hospital gown, as Mr. Nicholson does in a daze-though Mr. Gable temporarily damaged the men’s undershirt industry when he took off his shirt and bared his manly chest. One final note on then-and-now attitudes toward movie aging: Doris Day was only 31 when she was first ridiculed for playing an onscreen virgin, despite the filmmakers’ attempts to conceal her “agedness” using filters on the camera lens.

How then do Ms. Keaton and Mr. Nicholson get away with a hot sex scene and a generally passionate relationship that concludes with a traditional happy ending? Simple: by sharing a complementary onscreen charisma. Ms. Keaton projects her wondrously warm personality, and the erstwhile Jake Gittes keeps us entertained with a sense of irony that keeps things from getting too sticky. The two oldies are also comfortably and reassuringly upscale, like the Depression era’s sheltered screen playboys and playgirls. So it is that Harry just happens to control a pop-music empire, and Erica is a successful Broadway playwright with a beach house in the Hamptons-hardly slummers on Poverty Row.

Still, everyone around them seems to be conspiring to get them into bed together without ever betraying the slightest trace of annoyance, impatience, disbelief or even jealousy. First, Erica’s daughter bows out of her own relationship with Harry with almost a sigh of relief. Then, when Harry suffers a heart attack from his overindulgence in Viagra, the young presiding physician, played by the 39-year-old Keanu Reeves, is immediately attracted to Erica. The fact that he’s seen all her plays and is impressed with her writing should mark him as potentially gay, but instead it establishes him as a younger heartthrob (tadpole) attracted to an older woman.

Mr. Reeves has regularly courted younger women in most of his recent movies, but when the time comes for him to step aside for Harry, he does so without any fuss, albeit offscreen. He’s apparently seen the way Erica looks at Harry, and that’s enough for him to realize that he’s not the one (even though he has slept with Erica, and taken her to Paris on a pre-marriage honeymoon of sorts).

Erica’s sister Zoe, a professor of women’s studies, seems a little out of step by egging Erica on to respond favorably to the young doctor’s advances, but she exerts a cheerfully benign influence in getting Erica back into the sexual marketplace. All in all, Ms. Meyers retains her feminist credentials by humiliating Harry in ever-ingenious and amusing ways-she gets him off his sexist playboy perch and into the toils of True Love for a Good Woman. That’s as Old Hollywood as one can get.

Miss July Rocks!

Nigel Cole’s Calendar Girls , from a screenplay by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth, is based on a true story, and though it’s thematically more ambitious than its male counterpart, The Full Monty , it’s also less emotionally effective. Whereas The Full Monty ends at its peak, so to speak, with the unemployed male workers attaining a communal epiphany with their socially redeeming striptease, Calendar Girls goes beyond the amusing spectacle of Yorkshire housewives shedding their modesty for charity to an anticlimactic rendezvous with notoriety in flesh-peddling Hollywood. Whereas The Full Monty tends to pull an impoverished community together, Calendar Girls shows a more comfortable, if not more complacent, community coming closer to unraveling than pulling together. Part of the difference can be attributed to the deplorable double standards for men and women when it comes to the sacrifice of dignity and propriety for a perceived higher good.

Still, on its own, Calendar Girls is amiable enough as a frothy entertainment, with darker overtones rendered with emotional effectiveness. The acting is superb throughout, particularly with Julie Walters’ Annie, who loses her husband (John Alderton) to leukemia. This provides a cause for her best friend, Chris (Helen Mirren), to persuade the local Women’s Institute to sponsor a nude calendar discreetly posed by an assortment of age-challenged members of the group, with the proceeds going to the leukemia wing of the local hospital. Much of the histrionic appeal of the film arises from the inventive anti-type-casting of the usually vivacious Ms. Walters as the quietly emotional one, and the usually vulnerable Ms. Mirren as the tactless, extroverted go-getter of the pair. It reminds me of the miraculous switch-casting by Max Ophüls of the Austrian tragedienne Luise Ullrich as the flirtatious good-time girl, and the musical comedy star Magda Schneider as the quietly tragic heroine of Liebelei (1933).

Unfortunately, the worldwide celebrity that follows the publication of the calendar leads to a temporary rupture between Annie and Chris. It also generates domestic problems for Chris with her husband, Rod (Ciarán Hinds), and her conflicted son, Jem (John-Paul MacLeod). Indeed, the barroom portraits of neglected husbands brooding over the freakish fame of their unveiled wives become curiously oppressive as the movie lumbers slowly toward tentative reconciliation. Against this accumulating angst is the welcome relief of a suitable revenge by calendar girl Celia (Celia Imrie) against her two-timing husband. Ultimately, the one overwhelmingly satisfying feeling expressed in this film is the pleasure that women can derive from escaping their bourgeois isolation within family life to share with their sisters in spirit the outside world.

Hindsight 20/20

Errol Morris’ The Fog of War emerges as a fascinating enterprise that evokes nothing so much as Victor Hugo’s “dialogue of the deaf” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame . At one point, Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, now 87 years old, confides to Errol Morris, now 55, that he learned long ago not to answer the questions asked of him, but rather the questions that should have been asked. Still, despite the generation gap and the ideological differences between Mr. McNamara and Mr. Morris, The Fog of War is a more ambiguous viewing experience than I would have expected from a former anti–Vietnam War protester at the once-incendiary campus of the University of Wisconsin.

Mr. McNamara pinpoints one of the sources of the ambiguity: “I know what many of you are thinking. You’re thinking, ‘This man is duplicitous.’ You’re thinking that he has held things to his chest. You’re thinking that he did not respond fully to the desires and wishes of the American people. And I want to tell you: You’re wrong.”

One can surmise that the elaborate precision with which Mr. McNamara has always parted his hair suggests a structured personality ever sensitive to the pecking order in the chain of command. His severest critics would argue that he was loyal to his superiors to a grievous fault, but that’s an easy charge to make when the accuser’s never been in a position, like Mr. McNamara’s, that’s so close to the awesome decision-making of a superpower in a tense conflict of wills with a rival superpower.

Judging by the rhetoric emanating from the White House these days, it would seem that the “lessons” of Vietnam mean very different things to different people. What’s most interesting about The Fog of War is Mr. Morris’ humility as an insightful filmmaker, reflected in the neutral, non-judgmental footage of war that he selects, as if to illustrate the maddening inevitability and inexorability of humanity’s eternal addiction to war.