Has there been a more depressing downward spiral among contemporary filmmakers than that by Rob Reiner, a meathead turned major player in filmmaking whose string of hits included such films as the iconic This is Spinal Tap, the semi-classic The Sure Thing, a damn near perfect romantic comedy called When Harry Met Sally, and one of the best films about the experience of childhood, Stand By Me. Then, suddenly it seemed as if Reiner took a wrong turn in Hollywood's creativity labyrinth and ran into a brick wall from which he's yet to have the good sense to turn around.
While Reiner's downward spiral really began with 1994's almost universally panned North, a film for which I have a strange affection, it has really gained speed with such recent efforts as Flipped, the popular but truly abysmal The Bucket List, The Magic of Belle Isle, and now And So It Goes.
And So It Goes is a tone deaf As Good As It Gets wannabe that is never as biting as it should be nor as believably sentimental as Reiner obviously wants it to be. Penned by Mark Andrus, not so ironically the scribe who gave us As Good As It Gets, And So It Goes occasionally gives us glimpses of the film it could have been and likely the film that both Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton thought they were signing up for when the talented duo agreed to the film.
The film centers around Oren Little (Michael Douglas), a Connecticut realtor whose brand of perfectionism is essentially founded upon the principal of tearing everyone around him down. He's impossible to like, though in And So It Goes it feels a lot more manufactured than it did when Jack Nicholson did the EXACT SAME THING minus having a grandkid to worry about in the far more satisfying As Good As It Gets. Oren lives in a not quite run down beachfront complex that he owns and where he harasses the tenants that include Leah (Diane Keaton), a widow who also serves as this film's closest thing to a richly developed and authentic character. If you've seen the almost painfully unfunny trailer for And So It Goes, then you already know that Oren gets the ultimate surprise, to him but not anyone who has ever seen a formulaic and family affirming rom-com, when his son (Scott Shepherd) shows up at his doorstep with the granddaughter (Sterling Jerins) that Oren never knew he had and a plea for good ole' granddad to take care of her while the former addict turned businessman spends a year in prison.
Does anyone smell family bonding time?
Reiner used to have an almost remarkable ability to balance humor, poignancy, honesty, and truly delightful characters. There's just been something painfully off about his recent films. These are films you can't help but truly want to love, partly because Reiner continues to be a Hollywood treasure even if he has become a rather maddening filmmaker as of late and partly because Reiner continues to make films that are practically screaming out for love and affection.
While it may be taboo to say, I must confess that at least part of the problem with And So It Goes lies in the fact that Michael Douglas, whose portrayal of Gordon Gekko remains one of his and Hollywood's most memorable characters from recent years, is looking frail and far from Oren-like here. While there's nothing particularly wrong with Douglas's performance here, it lacks the spark and bite that we've come to expect from a Douglas performance and that we got from him not so long ago in the Liberace bio-pic in which Douglas was absolutely terrific.
Was Douglas truly frail in filming And So It Goes? Was this a performance choice? Either way, it didn't work and it was even more awkward given the generally winning performance from Keaton. Keaton managed to find little ways to give Leah a spark and almost singlehandedly saves the film from being a complete and utter mess.
The other major problem with And So It Goes comes in the fact that Reiner can't seem to figure out the film's tone and serves up multiple scenes that reminded me of Flipped in that you're sitting in your seat thinking to yourself "This is not what I'm supposed to be feeling here." For example, there's a scene where Oren pretty much forces a reunion between his granddaughter and the drug-addicted mother (Meryl Williams) who hasn't seen her in years. This scene plays out with such an awkward abusiveness that anyone who has ever suffered through an uncomfortable yet seemingly obligatory family reunion will likely have childhood flashbacks and be grabbing for the valium.
And So It Goes has the obligatory gero-sex humor which, I can't help but notice, I actually find less funny the older I get. On the other hand, Keaton's scenes as a cabaret singing, despite bringing back certain Helen Hunt memories, are for the most part warm and affectionate until Oren becomes overly invested in them and we're supposed to buy into idea that his marketing prowess actually helps her career. It also won't be particularly surprising that Oren's ability to connect with his granddaughter will depend entirely upon Leah's intermediary skills, a not particularly bad thing as the young girl takes an instant, and also instantly unbelievable, liking to her.
With each new Reiner film, I find myself entering the theater mumbling "Please let this be the one that gets him back on track." He's almost uniformly regarded as one of Hollywood's good guys and there's no question the actor/director remains a gifted guy even if his films don't seem to reflect it as of late.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic