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Entries in And So It Goes [2014] (1)

Friday
Jul252014

And So It Goes (2014)

Silver Fox and the Hound

One of the hardest things to admit as a critic is that I may not connect with certain films because they weren't designed to connect with me. Rob Reiner's new comedy, And So It Goes, for example, is the kind of sweet, serviceable movie about senior citizens getting their groove back that we've seen a hundred times before--which is approximately half as many times, it seems, as Diane Keaton has played a free-spirited, silver-fox divorcee/widower in the last fifteen years or so. That's not a knock on the actress. She's great at what she does, and just happens to do it a lot (like Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Katherine Heigl, and Melissa McCarthy, to name a few).

Here, Keaton plays Leah, a retired actress and aspiring lounge singer who lives next door to a mega-curmudgeon named Oren (Michael Douglas). He owns their beach-front Connecticut apartment building and is on the verge of retiring from a rocking real estate career. Like Leah, he's also lost a spouse, and the ensuing years have hardened him into a real PG-13 asshole.

Yes, Oren is racist, sexist, sex-obsessed, and mean to animals and children. But he's also played by Michael Douglas in a Rob Reiner picture. To be clear, the phrase "a Rob Reiner picture" once carried both a sure-fire quality guarantee and the promise of audacious, big-hearted filmmaking. But the Reiner of This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, and Misery is not the Reiner of And So It Goes.* Whether a function of age or taste, I found Reiner's latest to be boringly sentimental.

It does, however, offer an interesting point of comparison to another recent slice-of-life movie, Wish I Was Here. How could I find fault with the structural predictability of both films, while professing weeping affection for one and glazed-over disinterest in the other? The answer is "specificity".

Zach and Adam Braff injected their semi-conventional screenplay with insights that, if not genuine to their own experiences, at least felt like they were (Mandy Patinkin's memory of the ice cream truck, for example). In And So It Goes, Reiner and writer Mark Andrus dispassionately recycle genre conventions in a way that will not so much speak to the ages as to the aged. Andrus also wrote As Good As It Gets, Georgia Rule, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood--basic-cable-bound movies I have to believe that the in-his-prime Reiner would have skipped past on a Sunday afternoon. Yet somehow he's helped create a perfectly indistinguishable bit of lineup filler.

After the first forty minutes or so, I silenced my internal grousing and willed myself into the movie's all-too-familiar rhythms. It mostly worked. There's a reason Keaton and Douglas are movie stars, and it has largely to do with being able to sell all kinds of material. When Oren's estranged son (Scott Shepherd) shows up on his doorstep with a cute-as-a-button daughter (Sterling Jerins), you can bet that Oren's warped heart will melt soon enough; that father and son will begrudgingly reconcile; and that the nurturing Leah will find her happily ever after with the unlikely Prince Charming next door.** I couldn't be mad at anything on screen because the performances, setting, score, etc. were all orchestrated with the kind of Hallmark Channel earnestness of a production convinced of its own originality.

Sure, I could nitpick the odd lighting choices that sometimes gave Keaton the irradiated glow of 2001's Star Child, or the practically old-fashioned tameness of Douglas' character in the age of Bad Words and Bad Grandpa. But it's as futile an exercise as trying to convince a paranoid ninety-six-year-old that the President isn't chancellor of a reptilian overlord cabal. In the end, And So It Goes is a safe, unassuming comedy that goes down as smoothly as strained peas. Some audiences will find that appetizing, while others will crave more to chew on. I'm in the latter group, but at least I walked away fed.

*A title that, by all rights, would have been attached to an awesome Kurt Vonnegut biopic back in the day.

**Sorry for not leading with a "Spoiler" alert.