Hanging Up

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Those geniuses in marketing have screwed up again. They’ve billed the Diane Keaton-directed film “Hanging Up” as a sophisticated comedy about three very different sisters all trying to cope with each other, when in actuality, it’s about an old guy dying and one of his daughters taking care of him with little help from the other two.

Old guys dying! Self-centered women! Woo-hoo, are ya laughin’ yet?

The film is not comedy, and I’m not just saying that because it’s not funny. (It actually does have some funny moments, mostly provided by Walter Matthau as the philandering old man whose mind and body are fading; his performance is the only one that inspires any compassion OR laughter, and one senses that his female co-stars realize they’re being overshadowed by his venerability as an actor.) It’s not a comedy because it rarely even tries to be. Sure, there’s a big dog who won’t take his pills, and an inexplicable side plot involving a foreign doctor and his mother. But aside from those lame attempts, most of the film focuses on the emotions of Eve Marks (Meg Ryan), a business woman/wife-and-mother on whose shoulders the impending death of her father lies.

Her two sisters are Georgia (Keaton), who is off in New York running her own successful, eponymous magazine, and Maddie (Lisa Kudrow), a flaky soap opera actress. Neither one has time or emotional energy to devote to their father’s downturn, so it’s Eve who gets the phone calls from dad every five minutes and spends all her time at the hospital.

The film would have us believe that Georgia and Maddie are both just self-centered, but surely there is more to it than that. They love their father; why do they refuse to take responsibility? Those issues could have been investigated, and it would have resulted in a more layered, interesting film.

As it is, everything’s about Eve and HER issues, mostly her coming to terms with the fact that sometimes you have to disconnect yourself from your loved ones, especially if they’re driving you crazy.

Playing this part, Ryan somehow manages not to register much sympathy with the audience — quite a feat, considering how adorable she is, and how much America loves her. It’s not that her acting is off; it’s more that the structure of the screenplay only allows her two states of mind: frustrated and burdened.

Keaton and Kudrow do well with what they’re given. All three actresses are terrific usually; it’s a shame they’ve been put together here only to be wasted. The few scenes in which all three appear show a glimmer of how fun a Keaton/Ryan/Kudrow film could have been.

As a director, Keaton has an eye for visuals that are somewhat interesting — more so than you might expect for a generic family-crisis movie like this.

But that doesn’t help the fact that “Hanging Up” is only 95 minutes, yet feels extraordinarily longer. It’s because for so much of the film, lots of events are taking place without anything ever really happening. The movie skips the conflict, rising action and climax and goes right for the resolution — and stays there for an hour and a half. And even then, it’s not a very satisfying resolution. Ugh.

C- (; PG-13, moderate profanity and some sexual dialogue..)

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