[25 July 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Linda Ellerbee remains a media radical. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, she was part of a the highly acclaimed NBC news show, Weekend, before headlining the cult phenomenon, Overnight. In 1986, she published an amazing memoir of her time in the spotlight. Entitled And So It Goes, it covered… what, wait? That’s not what we are talking about here? No?
Oh, it’s the new movie, And So It Goes, starring Oscar winners Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, from a script by As Good As It Get‘s co-writer, Mark Andrus, and directed by former quality filmmaker Rob Reiner. Damn. TV back then was so much more scintillating. Ellerbee’s story is a billion times more interesting than this tired RomCom trope featuring aging adults of divergent backgrounds coming together over a kid.
Here’s the deal: Douglas’ character, Oren Little, is a class-A-hole movie jerkwad. He shoots dogs with paintball guns. He racially profiles his prospective real estate clients. He’s curt, obnoxious, cranky, and above all, arrogant to a fault. So naturally he needs a kind of karmic comeuppance. The first part of this cosmic re-jiggering arrives in the form of cute little “Little”, Sarah (Sterling Jerins). She’s the granddaughter he didn’t know he had.
See, Oren’s ex-junkie stockbroker son (Scott Shepherd) is headed off to jail, and he needs somewhere to park his offspring. Naturally, the Dad he hasn’t seen in forever is the perfect substitute parent. Before you can say “plot contrivance”, Oren is pawning the kid off on a likeable widow and wannabe lounge singer named Leah (enter Keaton). Interpersonal buffers are broken down, bad attitudes and actions softened, and a last act confrontation continues the process all the way back to Cliché-ville.
That’s And So It Goes. It’s so predictable that Vegas won’t even consider taking odds on how it will come out. This dull, adult-pitched slog will only be enjoyable for those who toddle down to the local Cineplex to catch that matinee price. And So It Goes is a chance to see comfortable, familiar, and well-worn faces go through motions made novel 90 years ago. It’s all about kids melting the hardened heart, life being readily experienced “at any age” and, perhaps more importantly, a chance for Annie Hall and Gordon Gekko to earn a 2014 sized paycheck.
Indeed, almost everyone involved here has earned some Awards Season love—either as winners, or in Reiner and Andrus’ case, nominees—and yet this film feels flatter than a Samuel Birley Rowbotham theory. It groans and creaks under its own antiquity, never once bringing anything new or novel to the contemporary genre.
Now, if done correctly, if offering up characters who are compelling in their complexity and circumstance, we can suffer through any and all cinematic stereotypes. We can handle the hateful man, the compassionate gal, their initial differences and their evolving emotions. Even the little kid, a plot device as old as Charlie Chaplin’s bowler could work, if managed in a way that wasn’t cloying or cutesy.
But And So It Goes doesn’t get this. It believes in the enduring power of the predictable, hoping its talented cast can pull the project out of its limited aspirations. Considering the issues it brings up—distant father, drug use, abandoned child—the movie never once aims for complexity. Instead, it winds up its mechanical works, places it on a rusty movie rail, and sends it to an inevitable and obvious conclusion.
Oh yeah, about the second part of his own personal repurposing. According to Andrus, every crotchety old coot can only be saved from themselves by being a grating good Samaritan for others. So naturally, Oren finds a way to get his son out of prison, to land Leah a sweet singing gig, and to make his button cute granddaughter love him. He even delivers a baby (once again, proving that Hollywood steadfastly believes in the healing powers of biology).
Instead of letting Oren steam in the stew of antisocial sentiments he’s built up over the years, the story must cure him. At least in As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson’s nooge, Melvin Udall, got to keep a bit of his OCD dramatics before completely falling for Helen Hunt’s helplessness. Here, Oren requires a true internal make-over, and the movie is more than happy to oblige.
Granted, you can completely leech the talent out of long time Hollywood staples, and with a combined 90 years in the biz between them, Douglas and Keaton defy the odds. He’s comfortable as the curmudgeon, using his mischievous smile to make Oren a bit more…likeable? We can get behind Oren’s “get off my lawn” demeanor if only because he seems to have earned such anger.
As for Keaton, well, she’s feather light in her twilight years, gliding along on a wave of goodwill that continues to fuel her public’s need to see her. What made her work in the ‘70s so fascinating becomes delightfully demented 40 years later, and the results remind us that, sometimes, a movie star is a movie star. The rest of the cast is Sylvester Stallone expendable (even Frankie Valli shows up). As long as Douglas and Keaton are clicking—and they do, for the most part—the film flies.
This doesn’t mean it works, however. Because Andrus employs nothing but old hat hokum, and Reiner fuels it with his post-prime pattern of over-earnestness. And So It Goes goes right down the drain.
Had we actually gotten a Ellerbee biopic, complete with recreations of her work with Lloyd Dobyns and Bill Schechner was considered groundbreaking in the world of “television” journalism, there’d be a reason to celebrate. Instead, Reiner and company are banking on the familiarity of their AARP romance. What they wind up with is something so unoriginal it trips on its own truisms.