In John Mellencamp’s little ditty ’bout “Jack and Diane,” the famous duo is young and sullen and doin’ who knows what “behind a shady tree.” In Something’s Gotta Give, actors Jack (Nicholson) and Diane (Keaton) play an old and crabby couple doin’ who knows what behind a beach house in the Hamptons, desperately trying to take the sting out of Mellencamp’s lyrics: “Oh yeah, life goes on/Long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.”
Harry Sanborn (a successful business owner) is dating Erica’s daughter, Marin. Erica (an equally successful playwright) meets the 63-year-old Harry when she runs into the half-dressed, sex-starved couple at her East Hampton home. Once the shock wears off, she agrees to be “adult” about things, and lets the two go on doing what they please, but before Harry and Marin can fully indulge their libidinous desires, he keels over, stricken with a heart attack. After an overnight stay at the local hospital, Harry heads back to Erica’s house for a week’s worth of rest and recuperation. And while he’s there, Erica inexplicably falls madly in love with her daughter’s lecherous man-friend. Unperturbed, Marin gracefully bows out, allowing her mom and Harry full right-of-way. They take full advantage, tumbling into bed quicker than Harry’s doctor can say “quadruple bypass surgery.”
A day or two later, Harry, who has never before slept with a woman over 30, goes back to the city and his womanizing ways. Erica sobs for days. (And we’re supposed to feel sorry for her?) Then, to get back at Harry, she writes a play about his misdeeds and takes up with his—young—physician, Julian. Six months go by. …
Concluding dialogue provides a little bit of relief for this almost unredeemable script. But for every positive, there’s a more-than-equal negative waiting in the wings. [Spoiler Warning] Harry informs Erica that he’s a changed man and that he’s ready to leave behind his lascivious ways. (Mind you, he never repents of them, he just says he has concluded them.) Erica begins to believe in herself as a real woman after spending 20 years thinking of herself as nothing more than an unattractive, undesirable over-the-hiller. (Unfortunately, it’s the illicit sex acts that she shares with Harry that seem to bring her around to this renewed self-affirmation.) Erica and Marin have a respectful, loving, adult, mother-daughter relationship. (But Erica extends her respect into unbalanced permissiveness, groaning over Marin’s choice of an older guy while remaining unfazed about whether or not the two are having sex.) When Erica finds out Harry owns a hip-hop record label, she lashes out at rappers for creating “crude, violent and misogynistic” music.
Cleavage, bare behinds and Viagra put in lots of screen time. Harry’s backside does quite a bit more than peek through his hospital gown. And various women bare varying degrees of cleavage. Erica and Marin are seen in their underwear. When Harry and Erica have sex, foreplay consists of him cutting off her turtleneck sweater (a symbol of her willingness to toss aside “repressive” attitudes about sexuality) and her taking his blood pressure (certainly the only time a blood pressure monitor has ever figured into a Hollywood sex scene). What follows involves moaning, groaning and sexual movements, but no explicit nudity. It’s also implied that Erica has sex with Julian.
Before Harry meets Erica, though, he and Marin are all set for their own brand of carnal affection. Marin strips for him—and the camera. She doesn’t get further than her bra and panties, but the two are then seen tangled up on her bed, where he slaps and grabs her bottom. Also before Harry and Erica fall in lust, Harry sees Erica naked (moviegoers see her side and front for a second or two as she frantically tries to cover herself with her arms).
Viagra is kicked around both as a verbal gag and a serious “remedy.” Erica gives “menopause” as a reason she and Harry don’t need protection during intercourse. Visual and verbal innuendoes abound.
No violence, but scenes in the ER get a bit intense after Harry has his heart attack (he rips his IV out).
Two f-words and one s-word are joined by misuses of God’s name (once, it’s combined with “d–n”), a handful of milder profanities and slang for sexual anatomy.
Harry loves cigars, but most of the time when he starts to smoke, Erica makes him stop, lecturing him on their dangers. Ironically, Erica is seen smoking a cigarette near film’s end, joking about how she might as well since second-hand smoke is going to kill her, anyway. Alcohol makes a much bigger entrance with Harry and Erica sharing glasses of wine and downing hard liquor on several occasions. Erica says that one of the things that she likes about herself is that she can’t hold her liquor. Harry and Julian both excitedly agree.
The harmful effects of divorce get glossed over with depictions of Erica’s “peaceful” relationship with her ex-husband. When he announces he is getting remarried, Marin is distraught, but Erica seems unconcerned.
Only a few decades ago, Harry would have been written off as a dirty old man. Today—at least onscreen—he’s deemed the catch of the year, a genteel lothario responding to the addictive beauty he sees in younger women. Something’s Gotta Give paints him as a slightly misguided everyman, a diamond in the rough waiting for the right touch from the right lady. As my grandpa would say, “Humph!” Erica is way too smart to fall for a creep whose only thought in life is to “make it” with girls a third his age. It’s impossible to empathize when she does, and it’s even harder to commiserate when he leaves her crushed and humiliated. I don’t care if she’s 19 or 91, she should know better.
“There was a freshness to it,” Keanu Reeves said of the film’s treatment of older characters. “A wonderful aspect of the script is the development of those characters who are so alive, searching to know themselves and each other. It’s refreshing, and something you don’t often see in Hollywood films. It’s a shame that in American cinema, knowledge and life experience aren’t really respected. Old people are either curmudgeons, or overly wise, or dying. It’s nice to see the vitality, the love, the search and the union that can still occur.” True enough. But do they have to exhibit the morals of an MTV pop princess to make people watch them?