Michael Douglas has, in his later years, become a far more amiable onscreen presence than the Greed Decade douchebags he so relished playing once upon a time. Even in the opening scenes of And So It Goes, in which he’s ostensibly playing a cantankerous, hard-headed realtor and all-around grouch, it’s hard not to feel for the guy. Is it that those slightly sleazy looks of his have now gotten a deer-caught-in-headlights quality, like the world has passed him by? Or is it that we’re experiencing a twisted sense memory of his earlier roles, mixed with the hard reality of time — the realization that even Gordon Gekko can get old and frail?
One senses that Oren Little, Douglas’s character in And So It Goes, might have been a real ‘80s-style jerk once upon a time. He’s still kind of a jerk, actually: When we first see him, he’s taking aim with what looks like an AK-47 at a dog that’s fouling one of his tony properties. (Don’t worry, it turns out to be a paintball gun.) He’s also conniving in his dealings; whenever he’s showing a house, he puts up sample photos featuring families of whatever ethnicity the prospective buyer happens to be. He has to create the illusion of a happy family home for these people, but he himself can’t bring himself to feel anything for anybody ever since his beloved wife passed away.
Meanwhile, Oren’s neighbor Leah (Diane Keaton) is the exact opposite: An aspiring lounge singer, she can barely make it through one song without breaking into tears. The two are brought together when Oren’s estranged son Luke (Scott Shepherd), a former addict, shows up out of the blue with a young granddaughter (Sterling Jenis) Oren never knew he had. Luke, it turns out, is going to prison, and he needs Oren to take care of the girl for a few months. Oren doesn’t want the girl, but the kindhearted Leah takes her in. Thus, our two mismatched Boomers are forced to deal with each other, and sparks start to slowly fly. And as Oren begins to care both for his neighbor and for his granddaughter, he decides to try to do something about his imprisoned son. That’s a surprising amount of plot (there’s a lot more where it came from), and the film doesn’t always seem to know what to do with it. We get little flashes of story beats, but then it’s on to the next thing — never enough to make us really invested in what’s happening to these people.
And So It Goes was directed by Rob Reiner, who is responsible for an almost comical number of key classics from the 1980s and ‘90s – from This Is Spinal Tap to The Sure Thing to Stand by Me to The Princess Bride to When Harry Met Sally to A Few Good Men. What an amazing, diverse string of hits; it’s hard to believe the same guy directed them all. But if there is a through line in his work, it’s that he likes ensemble pieces that give his supporting casts real moments to shine. It’s not the romance that makes The Princess Bride work; it’s that amazing array of unforgettable characters, each with his or her great moment or line. (“Have fun storming the castle!”) At their best, Reiner’s films use these diffuse tapestries to bring their central stories into sharper relief. (All the various characters popping in and out of A Few Good Men serve to make that final confrontation between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson that much more consequential.) At their worst, the films fall apart like jigsaw puzzles no one bothered to put together. (See also: North.)
One can see flashes of the old Reiner in And So It Goes. The small apartment building where Oren and Leah live — a place called Little Shangri-La — is a society of irregulars, and at first, Oren’s surliness is set against their easygoing communality. Similarly, Oren’s real-estate office is the staging ground for a variety of supposedly comical interactions involving his elderly (but sassy!) partner Claire (Frances Sternhagen) and her grandson Ted (Andy Karl). But the execution is botched. I get that movies like this aren’t supposed to be trying too hard, but did it all have to be so tired, so lifeless, and predictable? Does the apartment building really need the requisite pregnant couple so we can experience yet another obligatory, medically improbable childbirth scene in the third act? (Seriously, has anyone in Hollywood ever given birth to a child, like, ever?)
Still, there’s a nice, shabby chemistry between Douglas and Keaton, who’s her usual adorable self. And the film does tug on your heartstrings near the end, as Oren’s newfound feelings begin to push against his dismissal of the world around him. It might have worked even better had Douglas brought back some of his old edge, making the inevitable transformation so much more vivid. Indeed, it’s hard at times not to feel like And So It Goes wants to be a darker film. Should we read some real-life resonance into the relationship between Oren and his troubled son Luke? Douglas himself has a son who is currently in prison for drugs, and the actor has publicly blamed himself for being a lousy father to his boy. Does it seem cruel to expect the film to feel more personal, for the emotions to bubble up in more unpredictable and compelling ways? Perhaps, but isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Instead, And So It Goes is clean, pleasant, and thoroughly unremarkable. It passes the time, but with that cast and that director, it should have been so much more.