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Town and Country

Director: Peter Chelsom
Cast: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, Joshua Hartnett, Jenna Elfman, Andie MacDowell, Nastassja Kinski

(New Line; 2001)

Better Left Unsaid

The story goes that Town and Country has been awaiting release for years, and during this time, it has been variously tinkered with, presumably well-intentioned efforts to make it ready for consumption (it’s so old that Hartnett, a young unknown when it was shot, is now a star in his own right and goes by the cool teen star’s moniker “Josh,” rather than the credit here—“Joshua”). This kind of story doesn’t bode well for any film, but in this case it might explain a few things, like, how come the plot is so convoluted and incoherent that it might remind you of Freddy Got Fingered. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but… it’s pretty bad.

Porter (Warren Beatty) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) are 25 years married, with an amazing NYC apartment, and house in the Hamptons, two kids (including a son played by the above-mentioned Hartnett), a live-in maid, two huge dogs, and fabulous careers (she’s a fabric designer and he’s an architect). They look happy, except for the detail Porter’s having an affair with a cellist (Nastassja Kinski), introduced playing her instrument naked, so you can supposedly empathize with Porter’s inability to deny himself this one little infraction of the sacred bond he really truly holds so dear. Indeed, he’s a “fool,” he admits eventually, but what a long tedious route he travels to come to that realization.

Ellie and Porter’s best friends, Mona (Goldie Hawn) and Griffin (Garry Shandling), are happy too, for once scene, and then it’s revealed that he is also having an affair. The women sort of bond over their parallel travails, except that, oh, there are other affairs (including Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman, who both have better things to do, and did, even a few years ago—like, L’Oreal commercials). And oh gee, men are pigs even though they don’t mean to be. Unable to articulate what they want or think, the characters resort to mouthing cliches, like, some things are better left unsaid. Amen to that.

I’m hard pressed to find a point in Peter Chelsom’s movie (scripted by Michael Laughlin and Buck Henry), but it might have to do with Charlton Heston’s appearance as Eugenie’s (MacDowell) blustery, big-game-hunter father, an erstwhile friend of Hemingway’s who now defends her honor with a big old rifle. In case you’re still looking for an effective pro-gun control message, this is it, and from Mr. NRA President himself.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.

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