There are a great number of movies for which Hollywood heavyweights Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas shall be remembered. And So It Goes is not one of them.
The real basis for any distinguished film is a noteworthy story. The writing is really the foundational genesis of it all. In the latest undertaking by screenwriter Mark Andrus, any real semblance of a cohesive story is lost over the scattered nature of the lackadaisical, thinly plotted blather.
As a dear fellow critic hilariously theorized, there perhaps could have potentially been a very interesting conversation between director Rob Reiner and Diane Keaton over convincing her to enter into this mess of a tale.
So without further adieu, onto the film.
Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is an ornery real estate agent who owns a building with several tenants of which he also is one. He’s an unpleasant man, who takes his cocktails strong and his sarcasm heavy, and since the passing of his long-ailing wife years ago, he has had little to no interest in the troubles or cares of others, or the ways in which his actions affect them. He has no friends to speak of, except the secretary in his real estate office, Claire (Frances Sternhagen), who shows up now and then to offer him sage advice or to be a washboard for witty banter, as well as to add an element of alleged humor that can be found in agism and unnecessary smoking. (Of course, when is smoking ever “necessary”? In a moment of much-needed relief, perhaps? Say, after watching this movie…?).
When his long lost son, Luke (Scott Shepherd), and his daughter—Oren’s granddaughter, of whom he never knew—Sarah (Sterling Jerins, a child who should not continue her pursuit in acting if she and her parents know what is best for her), show up at Oren’s door announcing Luke’s impending prison stay consequentially leading to Sarah’s apparent future homelessness, Oren is, as expected, coldly hesitant to help.
Enter kindhearted neighbor and fellow building tenant Leah, (Diane Keaton), who takes pity as any decent person would on Luke and Sarah’s plight, and encourages Oren to adopt the girl, however long or short she may need to stay. Sarah’s mother is absent from her life, and we later learn when the “rich, clean, white people” go to the “bad part of town” that she is a junkie, strung out on drugs most of the time, and she is unable to care for Sarah (ostensibly evidenced by the noticeable vomit on her shirt). Certainly drug addicts in general have an uphill battle proving their reliability and responsibility in properly raising children, and no question Sarah was in better hands left with Leah and Oren. Nevertheless, the condescension with which the character of Sarah’s mother is handled, and moreover the neighborhood and its occupants surrounding her, is yet another troubling example of the glossed over classism often found in movies (and racism, in Oren constantly referencing Sarah as being birthed of an unknown, non-white entity).
Eventually Oren, Leah, and Sarah enter some kind of situation wherein there is a grandparents/grandchild dynamic, and things seem to be running all right. Meanwhile, Leah is a lounge singer who apparently can make an absolutely unrealistic killing singing at local venues, because, well, Diane Keaton likes to sing in movies, and she’s not entirely bad at it, so why not? Her performances here are not nearly as affecting as some have been in the past, but no bother. Frankie Valli shows up as a club owner at one point to offer Leah an outrageous amount of money to sing in his club, because, well, that’s just how it goes. Leah has a lot of inner demons to work out, what with her ex-husband and lost love, and her newly found let’s-hesitate-to-call-it-a-relationship “thing” going on with Oren, not to mention her intake of certain responsibility over Sarah’s well being, and her managing all the many horrible outfits the film’s costume designer threw at her, the sum total of which leaving the audience with a sense that: it’s tough being wealthy old me! [For the record, that is not a comment on Keaton being or looking old, but just simply a matter of expression; her spirit and zest for life are as in tact as they’ve ever, always been. Enough can never be said of her onscreen spark and panache, even in dreck like this].
The film is a lesson in realizing that just because an assembly of talented people work together, does not mean that their talent will always be best reflected in the outcome of their work. Beyond the stars’ illustrious past endeavors, there are the great films by director Rob Reiner (such as Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally…, A Few Good Men, The Story of Us, among others, each one telling stories so full of truth at various points along the spectrum of humanity), and writer, Mark Andrus (who told beautiful stories like Life as a House and the masterful As Good as It Gets). But here they, Keaton (Annie Hall, Manhattan, The Godfather, Father of the Bride, Something’s Gotta Give), and Douglas (Wall Street, The Game, Wonder Boys), cannot seem to bring together any kind of 94-minute story worth telling. Just one look at that lackluster movie poster featuring heavily airbrushed (nearly plasticized) portraits of the film’s stars could tell you that. It’s a real shame too, considering what such a fantastically gifted lot could have come up with, had they really put their minds together and hearts into it. Oh well… and so it goes.