While most movies end with ‘happily ever after’, real life is rarely that generous. Rob Reiner’s latest romantic-comedy, And So It Goes, ponders the challenges of love and loss for the senior set. Though it has the noblest of intentions, there’s just not enough romance or comedy to warrant a recommendation. Even the considerable charms of Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton aren’t enough to distract you from the glacial pacing and familiar storylines.
Douglas plays Oren Little, an embittered widower whose only kind words are reserved for potential clients of his real estate agency. All Oren wants is to sell his family home and retire to a sleepy little village in Vermont. Living next door to him is the ever-cheery widow, Leah (Diane Keaton), who spends her evenings cultivating a second career as a middling lounge singer.
It’s clear from the start that neither Oren nor Leah is over their dead spouse. Oren copes by shutting off his emotions entirely, while Leah bursts into tears over cheesy song lyrics during her stage performances. Watching these two wounded souls help each other to heal might have been intriguing, but things quickly take a turn for the contrived when Oren’s estranged son, on his way to serve a short prison term, dumps his ten year-old daughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins), on Oren’s doorstep. Now it’s up to Sarah and Leah to warm Oren’s cold heart, because that’s what people do in movies like this.
And So It Goes tries to occupy the same acerbic comedic niche as As Good As It Gets, but lacks the courage of its convictions. Unable to match Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top venom, Douglas takes a more passive-aggressive approach. Instead of screaming racial epithets, Oren racially profiles his prospective clients by switching the family photos in his properties to match the client’s ethnicity. It’s just as ugly as Nicholson berating minorities or foreigners, but not nearly as entertaining.
This isn’t to say that Douglas doesn’t have some good lines. Writer Mark Andrus sprinkles in the occasional nugget to keep us mildly interested. For instance, when faced with the sudden prospect of sex, Oren gravely warns that, “The last time I had sex I tore my ACL.” Most of the good one-liners, however, are reserved for Oren’s foul-mouthed co-worker and relationship guru, played by the delightful character actress, Frances Sternhagen. It’s never a good sign when a secondary character makes the leading players seem lifeless and dull.
The primary problem with And So It Goes is that it barely has a pulse for much of its running time. Most of this lethargic pacing can be traced back to Oren’s lack of urgency. Sure, he wants to make one last sale so he can retire, but he’s in no particular hurry to achieve this vague goal. Even after Sarah arrives, when the tension should be boiling over, Oren makes only two limp-wristed attempts at ditching her, including one nauseating scene in which he tracks down her drug-addled birth mother. The script is so desperate for action that it even forces Oren to help deliver a baby on his living room sofa. If you’ve ever wanted to hear Michael Douglas say, “You have a head in your vagina!” this is the movie for you.
There is a funny, insightful movie to be made about older lovers, but it’s not And So It Goes. It’s surprising that Reiner, who helmed the romantic comedy genre’s gold standard When Harry Met Sally, seems unable to make his characters either convincing or sympathetic. Oren changes simply out of necessity; if he didn’t change, there would be no movie. Reiner tries to equate Oren’s personal transformation to that of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Sadly, that proves a metaphor for the entire viewing experience. Oren spends so much time sleeping inside his cocoon that we don’t care when he finally emerges and flies away. And So It Goes never earns its wings.
— J.R. Kinnard