Diane Keaton is so outrageously appealing in Something's Gotta Give that it's almost as if we're seeing her for the first time. It's been a while since she had a role she could sink her teeth into, either because there weren't any (she's over 40, God save her) or because she didn't want one. But Erica Barry, a successful fiftysomething playwright who's all but given up on love when she's suddenly blindsided by it, appears to have been written with Keaton in mind. Imagine Annie Hall 25 years later -- still a little flaky, but with at least one foot on the ground, that la-di-da embracing of life's weirdness having hardened somewhat, due to loneliness and disappointment.
Movies starring women over 50 are inevitably about being a woman over 50, and Something's Gotta Give is no exception. Erica, who's as attractive as a woman that age could ever hope to be (i.e., very), apparently hasn't had a date in years, despite being the toast of Broadway. Then she meets the man her daughter (Amanda Peet) is dating -- not just meets, but reluctantly plays host to, for several days, after he has a mild heart attack in her daughter's bedroom. He, of course, is Jack Nicholson, here called Harry Sanborn, a 63-year-old record executive who's never dated a woman over 30. Officially offended but unofficially intrigued, Erica finds Harry loathsome, then lovable, then loathsome again, often in the space of a single second.
Having played more or less the same role 20 years ago in Terms of Endearment, Nicholson manages to find new shadings, both lighter and darker ones. And he and Keaton are magical together, a master class in comic and dramatic timing. "I don't know how to be intimate, but not intimate," Erica says -- an only so-so line that Keaton, with her exuberantly reticent delivery, turns into a pearl of hard-earned wisdom. Likewise, Nicholson attaches just the right amount of earnest smarm to the following mea culpa: "I have never lied to you. I always told you some version of the truth." Harry isn't a bad guy, really, just a guy who's gotten away with dating younger women so long that he's failed to notice how ridiculous he looks.
Something's Gotta Give is far from a flawless piece of work. Writer-director Nancy Meyers, who's staked her whole career on the prattle between the sexes (from Private Benjamin, which she co-wrote, to What Women Want), appears to have learned everything she knows about men and women from reading Cosmo. And she blows the ending to this movie -- three or four times, according to my calculations. But when Keaton and Nicholson are walking along the beach, feeling out each other's defenses and then moving in for the kill, all is forgiven. A love story for the AARP crowd, Something's Gotta Give makes us all wish we were a little older.