For the Wilford Brimley crowd a week such as this must be a dream come true. Not only has Woody Allen unloaded his relic of a comedy Magic in the Moonlight into theaters, but Rob Reiner has dusted off Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton for And So It Goes. It’s like 1986 all over again….well, maybe not. Because back then Reiner was at his creative peak whether it be comedy like This is Spinal Tap, or drama in Stand By Me, fantasy with The Princess Bride, or rom-com with When Harry Met Sally. And perhaps it’s unfair to compare cinematic schmaltz like And So It Goes to Reiner’s best work, but he and everyone involved have proven capable of so much more. It’s just a shame they’ve grown so comfortable with doing less.
Reiner had a lot of help from some capable screenwriters on many of his most cherished works, and at least on paper he should have received the same from Mark Andrus, the Oscar-nominated writer of As Good As It Gets. Andrus has been wildly inconsistent ever since, penning the excellent Life as a House as well as the embarrassingly bad Georgia Rule. And So It Goes falls in that latter category even though it cribs liberally and ineffectually from As Good As It Gets, in particular with the curmudgeonly lead character. Oren Little (Douglas) is a retirement-aged real estate agent with an endless amount of venom stored up. Once a happy husband now a solitary and angry loner, all he wants is to sell one more big money home and settle someplace far away in peace. Casually racist, snarky, and generally ill-tempered, Oren could care less about anything and anybody. To boost sales he decks out the homes with phony family pictures, often of celebrities which gets him in trouble, not that he gives a rat’s behind about it. Speaking of behinds, he’s also fond of shooting dogs in theirs with paintball guns. Douglas is relishing every second of playing such an incredible douche, and he’s darn good at it after years of practice playing such characters.
Of course we know that a guy like Oren is due to have his heart melted one way or another. Reiner and Andrus attack the situation from two fronts, neither of which is very interesting. One comes in the form of Oren’s nosy and neurotic neighbor, Leah, a fellow widower whose lounge act usually ends with her in tears. She and Oren are clearly still dealing with past pain and yet they can’t stand the sight of one another. Their every conversation begins and ends with a fight, which is a problem because he’s the landlord of the building she lives in. If it sounds like a sitcom situation that’s because it is, and Reiner directs the film as if he’s waiting for a laugh track that will never come and probably shouldn’t.
There’s never any doubt these two will end up flopping in bed together, but first Oren must be further worn down by the sudden arrival of a granddaughter he never knew existed. Dropped off by his ex-junkie son, the girl is seen as a total burden by Oren, forcing Leah to step in and take care of her until he is eventually won over by the precocious child. Is the film predictable in just about every way? Sure, but that’s not an automatic disqualifier to it being any good. The bigger problem is that it’s predictable and lacking in any wit, brushing off serious issues as mere inconveniences. Without any emotional stakes there’s little to get engaged with, and just tossing Douglas and Keaton into lesser versions of characters they’ve played before isn’t enough. Oren never goes through a convincing enough change to warrant us caring about his happy ending, and Leah isn’t lovable enough for us to care if he wins her heart. So what does And So It Goes make us care about? The thankfully brief 93 minute run time that still might have audiences checking their watches.