It’s a story we’ve seen many times before: curmudgeon (of not the lovable variety) succeeds in business while keeping himself in self-exile through a cloak of bitterness until a kid or a woman (sometimes both, as in this case) come into his life, break down his walls and reveal the wonderful person underneath. Usually, the result is a ham-fisted, overdone movie that is either mind-numbingly boring, or offensive in its sheer inoffensiveness. And So It Goes is a happy exception.
Make no mistake; I only saw And So It Goes because I’m on the critics’ list for the distributor. As far as I was concerned – after seeing the abysmally unfunny trailers (whoever did them managed to create a near-perfect masterpiece of awfulness) – I was seeing it under duress.
Then I saw it.
Whoever put the trailers together should never work again.
And So It Goes was written by Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets, Life Is a House) and directed by Rob Reiner (The princess Bride, people!). Both were on their game for this one.
Yes, it does all those clichéd things you’re expecting – except they turn things up or down a notch in unexpected places and have the cast to make those zigs and zags work.
For example, Michael Douglas’ Oren Little is not a lovable curmudgeon He’s a complete ass – and deliberately so. If Michael Douglas wasn’t playing him he’d be a total disaster. Because he’s Douglas, he gets our patience long enough for the inevitable to happen. Part of that is because when he’s at work (he owns a real estate brokerage), he gets as good as he gives via business partner Claire (Frances Sternhagen), who is quick to point out that he has to put up her – not because they work together but because she’s the only friend he’s got.
The woman in the formula is Leah (Diane Keaton), a widow who is, at the age of sixty-mumble, looking to make a career as a lounge singer (Keaton does her own singing and is pretty good). She lives next door to Oren and when his estranged son, Kyle (Austin Lysy, Law & Order: SVU), leaves his daughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins, Deception, World War Z), there while he goes to prison, she’s the one who actually takes the girl in. Grandpa wants nothing to do with her.
Romantically, Leah is seeing Artie (Reiner), her pianist. He’s a decent guy, but a bit of a nebbish, so we know right away where this relationship is going.
The thing is, it only took about five minutes for me to go from ‘under duress’ to enjoying myself. Partly that’s because the story got to be a cliché because it’s a good story and has been told poorly more often than not. It’s like watching video of Lenny Bruce or George Carlin goes on a riff – no matter how many times you see that, you laugh. Because they’re masters and what they’re doing, they do very, very well.
That’s the case here. The emotional beats, the jokes, the moments of drama – they pretty much fall where they should, but even though you know what’s coming, this group of performers does it very, very well – and there are enough tweaks to keep things just that little bit unpredictable. As when Oren, having finally thawed out a bit, triumphantly informs Claire that, ‘You’re not the only one who loves me!’ Douglas delivers the live with such glee that it wouldn’t have been surprising if he’d improvised a big raspberry at the end, or added a ‘So there!’
Is And So It Goes the best comedy of the year? No, it’s not. But it is one of the funnier movies of the year so far. And even when it gets to ‘the heart stuff’ it has just a hint of edge to keep from slipping into the maudlin.
I’d say try it, you’ll like it – but that’s even more of a cliché than the curmudgeon who thaws out for a kid or a dame.
Final Grade: B
Photos courtesy of Clarius Entertainment/VVS Films