Something’s Gotta Give

Though I am pleased to see Jack Nicholson starring in films in which he plays men coming to terms with the aging process (as he did in “About Schmidt”), thus suggesting perhaps Nicholson is doing the same, I am not pleased that this new-found introspection must be accompanied by photographed images of Nicholson’s naked rear end. You may have forgotten, in all the trauma of seeing Kathy Bates naked, that Jack had a brief butt shot in “About Schmidt,” too. And he does it again in “Something’s Gotta Give,” an otherwise very smart and enjoyable romantic comedy co-starring Diane Keaton.

Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn, a 63-year-old playboy, bon vivant and raconteur who never dates anyone older than 30 and who is perfectly satisfied to live the lifestyle of a swingin’, albeit agin’, bachelor. Currently, he’s dating luscious young Marin Barry (Amanda Peet), and the two have capered off to her family’s house in the Hamptons for the weekend.

Alas, Marin’s mother, noted playwright Erica Barry (Keaton), is also planning to spend the weekend there, in the occasional company of her sardonic, feminist sister Zoe (Frances McDormand). Erica is shocked to see her daughter dating someone even older than she, Erica, is, and is put off even more by Harry’s decidedly un-P.C. attitudes about women and relationships. Harry, meanwhile, is befuddled to meet a woman so reticent that he can’t crack her (not that he wants to, given her age). “She’s beyond uptight,” he says. “It almost makes her fun to be around.”

In a twist reminiscent of the old play and film “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942), Harry suffers a mild heart attack while gettin’ it on with Marin and is told by his youthful doctor Julian (Keanu Reeves) that he cannot travel back to Manhattan in this condition. He must instead recuperate at the Barrys’ home, nursed primarily by Erica, since Marin has to get back to the city.

And there is the setup, the time-honored rom-com tradition of putting two polar opposites together to watch them fight and ultimately fall in love. But written and directed by Nancy Meyers (director of “What Women Want,” writer of “Father of the Bride”), the film has an air about it that seems just a little more sophisticated than the norm. Erica and Harry have depth to them, and there are several nice touches in the way their relationship develops — examining the difference between “I love you” and “I love ya,” for example, and the way Harry reluctantly realizes that, at 50-something, Erica has a lot more in common with him than anyone in her 20s.

Much of the credit for the film’s success goes to Nicholson and Keaton, who didn’t become two of America’s most beloved actors for no reason. Nicholson, damn him, exudes charm and likability even when playing the most caddish of men, no less so as the freewheeling Harry, whose rough edges do eventually soften into a Schmidt-like acceptance of his place in the world. And Keaton, bless her, is a national treasure. Erica has mannerisms, moods and feelings, and Keaton brings them all to us, humorously, sadly and honestly. She lives and breathes this woman, well enough to deserve an Oscar nomination, in my opinion. I can’t think of a performance by an actress this entire year that I enjoyed more.

Eventually, the film goes where these films always go, and that’s a little disappointing, since its hints of class earlier on give one hope that something different is in the offing. Still, creative ending or not, the comedy is sharp and the writing is swift. The characters undergo personal journeys just deep enough to make them respectable film characters, but not so deep that it will turn off romantic-comedy fans who prefer that everything happen exactly the same way in every film. At least the naked 66-year-old buttocks are a departure from the routine.

B+ (2 hrs., 9 min.; PG-13, two F-words, too much display of Jack Nicholson's butt, a fleeting display of female nudity, and some sexual dialogue.)