book excerpt

When Was Diane Keaton the Most Charming in Something’s Gotta Give?

An excerpt from Shea Serrano’s Movies (And Other Things).

Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo by Shutterstock/Copyright (c) 2003 Shutterstock. No use without permission.
Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo by Shutterstock/Copyright (c) 2003 Shutterstock. No use without permission.

Shea Serrano is a Mexican-American New York Times best-selling Author of two books. His third book, Movies (And Other Things), is out today, October 8. For more information on Shea and his latest book, please click here.

It is a clear thing and an obvious thing that 1977’s Annie Hall is the default movie to bring up when discussing Diane Keaton’s brilliance. And rightfully so, given (1) she is brilliant in it; the kind of brilliant that defines a career; the kind of brilliant that somehow lives separate of all other things; the kind of brilliant so stuffed full of wit and charm and effervescence and humor that it nearly glows. And (2) the film carries with it the kind of historical gravity and influence and cultural symbolism that make it inescapable. And so I get that. And I understand that. And I get that. And I understand that.

But still: It is not my favorite Diane Keaton performance. Because my favorite Diane Keaton performance is the show she put on in 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give.

A very quick synopsis of Something’s Gotta Give: Jack Nicholson plays Harry Sanborn, a rich and successful 63-year-old man who has a habit of dating decades-younger women. He starts seeing a 29-year-old woman named Marin Klein (played by Amanda Peet). She takes him to her mother’s house in the Hamptons for a weekend getaway. Her mother, a famous playwright named Erica Barry (played by Keaton), shows up shortly after, surprising them both. Several hours after everyone meets everyone, Nicholson and Peet are in their bedroom getting ready to (presumably) have sex. Nicholson has a heart attack during foreplay and collapses on the floor, and so Peet calls Keaton to help. Keaton ends up saving his life (she gives him CPR and also has Peet call for an ambulance). Peet, somehow just now realizing that her weekend boyfriend is over 30 years older than her, is wobbled by the experience and ditches Nicholson, who ends up getting quarantined in Keaton’s Hamptons house until he’s strong enough to travel. He and Keaton dislike each other in the beginning, but then Nicholson talks to Keaton for more than one minute and becomes enamored with her, because that’s what happens when someone talks to Diane Keaton for more than one minute. And that’s where things get thorny.

A real quick aside before I continue, and this will help speak to the level of sophistication and glamour that Keaton has on display in the movie: In 2018, Nancy Meyers, the writer and director of Something’s Gotta Give, was speaking at the Tribeca Film Festival. She told a quick story about how Diane Keaton was so dazzling as Erica Barry that Jack Nicholson thought she’d really fallen in love with him. There’s a scene in the back half of the movie where the two run into each other in New York (this is after they’ve sort of broken up following their time at the Hamptons house together) and Erica gives this great speech to Harry about how she loves him. Jack, while she was doing it, was so overwhelmed by Keaton’s performance that he thought she was saying it for real, as herself, and not as her character. And so he approached Meyers and told her that Keaton had just for real, in real life, as real humans with real emotions, told him that she loved him. Nicholson is often regarded as one of the all-time greatest actors in American cinema, and Keaton still had him so spun around that he forgot that he was in a movie with her while they were filming the movie.

At any rate, the rest of the plot of Something’s Gotta Give:

Nicholson’s Harry falls in love with Keaton’s Erica (and she’s pretty sure she loves him, too). But at the same time that that’s happening, the doctor who is treating Nicholson, a 36-year-old Perfect Man played by Keanu Reeves, begins courting Keaton as well. And so that’s what the movie is: It is, in effect, Diane Keaton accidentally making men fall in love with her, and then Diane Keaton being surprised that men keep falling in love with her, and then Diane Keaton trying to figure out which one of them it is she wants to be with, and then Diane Keaton reacting to the reverb of all it. And it’s all so perfect. As she often is.

18 Questions about Diane Keaton, None of Which Are About Something’s Gotta Give

What is it that makes Diane Keaton such a special actress? Is it because of how funny she is, or how charming she is, or how challenging she is, or how idiosyncratic she is? Is it because of the turtlenecks? The scarfs? The blazers? Is it her bangs? It’s her bangs, right? Is it because of the way she talks about the way a bridge looks at night while sitting on a bench next to a neurotic creep-o? Is it because of the way she scans for Warren Beatty at a train station? Is it because she’s so good at making applesauce? Is it because of the way she tells you that her hair is a wig? Is it because she stared down the mob? Is it because of the way she kisses a frog? Is it because of the way she gets out of a giant inflatable swan float when she’s surprised by her daughters and the police? Is it because of the way she smiles when she’s nervous, or the way she blows air out of her slightly scrunched-up nose when she’s nervous, or the way her words somehow flutter around in the air for longer than anyone else’s when she’s nervous? Is it a combination of some of those things? Is it a combination of all of those things? Will there ever be another Diane Keaton?

Does Diane Keaton make the right decision in Something’s Gotta Give? Because what ends up happening is she chooses Nicholson over Keanu, and it’s not immediately clear if that’s the right thing to do.

Things we know about Dr. Keanu:

• He’s handsome. Keanu has always had such a great face. He’s not at his absolute most handsome here (the most handsome he has ever been was in John Wick: Chapter 2), but he is certainly trending toward it.

• He’s tall. A steady six-foot-one. (For comparison, Keaton is five-foot-seven.)

He’s (likely) good at kung fu. Immediately prior to appearing in Something’s Gotta Give, he starred in the final installment of The Matrix trilogy. That means he probably had some kung fu residue still baked into his bones, which is either very important to you or not important at all to you.

• His heart is in proper working condition. He has zero issues with his heart in the movie, unlike Nicholson, who seems to have a heart attack every 20 seconds.

• He’s a doctor. He works in the ER. Were I to guess, I’d say that puts his salary somewhere around $300,000. That’s very good.

• He’s young. He’s 36, compared to Nicholson’s Harry, who is 63. (Keaton’s Erica is 56.) (Also: I wonder if Meyers decided to make Keanu’s age and Nicholson’s age a mirror of one another as a subtle way to imply that they are opposites.)

• He’s considerate. He seems to always say a nice thing or do a nice thing, no matter the circumstances. (The biggest example is when Nicholson shows up in Paris and Keanu, rather than punching him in the nose, invites Nicholson to sit down and join him and Keaton for dinner.)

• He’s advanced. There’s a part where he reads her latest play right after she’s finished it. He tells her that it’s great, and then he makes a comment to her about how lucky she is that he’s not intimidated by how talented she is.

Things we know about Nicholson:

• He’s handsome, but he’s “for an old man” handsome. You have to add that qualifier in there. Nicholson is handsome in Something’s Gotta Give, yes, but he’s “handsome for an old man.” It’s different.

• He’s taller than Keaton, but shorter than Dr. Keanu. Five-foot-ten.

• He’s (likely) bad at kung fu. He was in zero of The Matrix movies.

• His heart is bad. It’s like a jar full of mayonnaise and cigar smoke.

• He’s (likely) richer than Dr. Keanu. He owns several businesses, including one of the largest hip-hop record labels in the country.

• He’s old (but only in relation to Dr. Keanu, not in relation to Keaton). He’s 63. That puts him 27 years older than Dr. Keanu (which is a lot), but only seven years older than Keaton (which is not a lot if both people are older than 45, but is a lot if both are younger than 25).

He’s inconsiderate. For most of the movie, anyway. Sometimes it comes off as accidentally rude (like when Keaton is excited to find out that Nicholson was briefly engaged to Diane Sawyer, and Nicholson says, “Women your age love that about me”), and other times it comes off as purposefully funny. (The single best example is when Keaton meets Nicholson for the first time. She comes home, sees him in her house, thinks he’s robbing her place, and calls the cops. He says he’s not robbing her, that he’s there because he’s dating her daughter. Right then, Peet walks in wearing a bikini and confirms it. Keaton says, “You’re dating my daughter?!” To which Nicholson responds, “Now who would’ve thought that would be worse news?”)

• He’s not advanced. For most of the movie, anyway. It’s the whole point of him dating young women.

On paper, Keanu seems like the obvious pick for Keaton. He is younger, seemingly happier, can have sex without having to check his blood pressure first, and still has what I would figure to be at least 40 more years of life activity ahead of him, should Keaton so choose to occupy it. But ultimately it just would not have worked, mostly for four reasons:

First, he’s approaching the thickest and most intense time of his professional career. He would not be anywhere near as available as Nicholson is (Nicholson is already rich enough that he never has to worry about work again if he doesn’t want to). That’s important.

Second, he’s not as good at being in a conversation with as Nicholson (mostly all Keanu says in the movie is how much he adores Keaton, which I imagine would eventually get old). Keaton is at her best and most lively when she has someone to swat a conversational tennis ball back and forth with. It might be her most treasured thing. Nicholson checks that box off for her. Dr. Keanu does not.

Third, the age difference is just too big. Him being 36 and her being 56 is fine right now, but that 20-year gap is going to be a problem when he hits 45 and she’s up at 65, or when he hits 60 and she’s up at 80.

And fourth, and this is the most important part of all of this, but Nicholson really, really loves her. He goes on this entire journey of self-discovery after they have a falling-out because he knows that he has to be better than what he’s been if he wants to be with Keaton, because he knows that she’s too smart to fall for any of his regular tricks or schmoozing. He tracks down a bunch of his ex-girlfriends, asks them how they feel (or felt) about him, and then absorbs all of that and realizes how inept of a relationship partner he is, and has been.

Keaton made the right decision. She mostly always does.

15 More Questions About Diane Keaton, Except This Time They’re All About Something’s Gotta Give, and Also It’s Actually Only One Question, And Also This Time It Gets Answered

When is Diane Keaton the most charming in Something’s Gotta Give? Is it the scene when she first meets Nicholson? Is it the scene when she, her sister and her daughter have dinner with Nicholson? Is it the scene when she doesn’t notice any of Dr. Keanu’s advances in the hospital? Is it the scene when she chats with Nicholson on Instant Messenger? Is it the scene when she and Nicholson both realize they like each other in the kitchen late that one night? Is it when she walks on the beach with Nicholson and she’s wearing that hat? Is it when she stops making out with Nicholson to take his blood pressure before sex? Is it when she hears Nicholson ask to sleep in the bed with her? Is it after they first break up and she cries and cries and cries? Is it when she sees Nicholson in New York and runs out of the restaurant? Is it when Nicholson approaches her as she’s getting her new play ready? Is it when Nicholson surprises her at the restaurant in Paris? Is it when she puts on Nicholson’s glasses and he puts on hers? Is it when the two of them (fucking finally) meet up on that bridge at the very end of the movie?

I don’t figure it’s any of those. I figure it’s the scene when she has to give Nicholson CPR. She’s in the kitchen with her sister and the two of them can hear Nicholson and Keaton’s daughter in the bedroom listening to Marvin Gaye. Then she hears her daughter calling for her. Then she runs in there and sees Nicholson on the floor, assesses the situation, and hollers at the daughter to call 911. Keaton gets down on her knees, and her sister asks her what she’s doing. “Mouth to mouth,” she says, and when she says it Nicholson makes a face like he doesn’t want her to do it. She sees it, and sees him, and, separate of any of the kinds of playful dizziness or eccentric quirkiness that she often packs into her lines, she says, “Ugh! Youuuu fucking guy.”

She won the Oscar for Best Actress that year, of course. She’s one of only three actresses to have won an Oscar for Best Actress in a romantic comedy in the past 40 years. It’s her, Cher for 1987’s Moonstruck, and Helen Hunt for 1997’s As Good As It Gets. (Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar for Best Actress for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, but, despite having funny parts and romantic parts, Silver Linings Playbook is not a romantic comedy.) The most succinct explanation of Annie Hall’s place in movie lore came from Roger Ebert, who wrote in Ebert’s Essentials: 25 Movies to Mend a Broken Heart that it “signaled the end of the 1970s golden age of American movies. With Star Wars, the age of the blockbuster was upon us, and movies this quirky and idiosyncratic would find themselves shouldered aside by Hollywood’s greed for mega-hits.” This was actually the first movie I ever saw Diane Keaton in, which is part of the reason I care so much about it. Watching her in it was an awakening of sorts. It was one of those situations where you’re like, “Oh shit. Who is this person? How do I find more of this person’s work?” And so you can imagine my surprise when I found out that I had something like 30 years’ worth of material to work my way through backward. Up to that point in my life, the movies I’d watched and cared about mostly featured fighting and shooting and robberies and gangsterisms and turtles that were ninjas and so forth. Keaton changed all of that. I’m still not quite certain if this means that Nicholson is very good at foreplay or very bad at foreplay. Baby Boom is quietly a very great Diane Keaton movie. She plays a successful
New York City businesswoman who becomes the caretaker of a baby from a deceased cousin. The baby, of course, derails her career, and so Keaton’s character ends up in Vermont living on a large piece of property with her new little girl. She starts a gourmet baby food business almost by accident, then turns it into a multimillion-dollar corporation, which she uses to poke in the eye of the company that let her go after the baby showed up. It’s fun, and the part where Keaton realizes she’s not capable of giving the baby up for adoption is a perfect example of the way she can turn any moment into something grand.
This happens in 2010’s Morning Glory, and it’s so fucking funny. No. This will be crude, and for that I apologize, but right here feels like a good time to tell you that when my wife and I were talking about this while I was working on this chapter, I said something to her close to, “I am familiar with what a 36-year-old penis looks like, because I have seen my own, but I am unfamiliar with what a 63-year-old penis looks like, though I assume it would be largely terrible.” She processed that bit of information, and then said that it was my responsibility to look at one, because it would be unfair of me to mark points off Nicholson’s case in this conversation if I’d done no actual research on the subject. And so I looked for a few on the internet and found them and looked at them and I have to say: It’s not as bad as you’d think. They’re certainly not enjoyable to look at, as most penises are not, but I think that you’d have a hard time guessing a man’s age based solely on his penis. While organ functionality would eventually be an issue for Nicholson before it would be for Keanu, organ attractiveness would not. A third option here would be that actually neither Nicholson nor Keanu deserved Keaton, because nobody has ever deserved her in a movie, because she is Diane Keaton.
When Is Diane Keaton Most Charming in Something’s Gotta Give