Remember when the arrival of a new Rob Reiner film was something to get excited about? It seemed like for a period of time back in the 80s and 90s the name of the actor turned director signalled a potentially interesting project. This is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men. These are some of the films of Rob Reiner. I’m sure you remember those even if you’re too young to remember the time period specifically. You might even remember his infamous dud North, which he was able to rebound from the very next year with The American President. He’s not a bad filmmaker, or at least he wasn’t at one time.
I only invoke the names of these better films to point out that Reiner hasn’t made a good film since the mid-90s. It’s not for lack of trying on his part. I don’t want to go into a history lesson about the sharp downward trajectory of his career to pumping out borderline unwatchable, sickeningly maudlin and woefully misguided pap like The Bucket List or Alex and Emma, not just two of the worst films of their respective years, but two of the worst films of the first decade of the 2000s. The point is that Reiner is still trying too hard, and that bizarre commitment to churning out some of the least challenging films possible continues with the Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton starring And So It Goes. While it certainly isn’t one of Reiner’s worst, it might be its most disappointing. It’s so belaboured and predictable that one almost wishes it were as offensively bad as his greatest misfires.
Oren Little (Douglas), an uppity, dishonest, widower realtor, gets a surprise when his reformed junkie son (Scott Shepherd) shows up unannounced to tell his dad two things. He tells Oren that he’s a grandfather and that Oren needs to look after the granddaughter (Sterling Jerins) he never knew he had while he’s off in prison. This seriously gets in the way of Oren’s day to day routine of trying to unload his empty estate house full of bad memories on unsuspecting minorities with money that he disingenuously caters to and generally making the lives of his neighbours and unpleasant hell. Oren gets some help with his new ward from Leah (Keaton), a sympathetic neighbour and struggling lounge singer. Bonding over taking care of the kid, Oren begins to see Leah’s talent and warmth and she begins to see Oren as the person he was before he lost his love for life.
Only their connection is in no way warranted because Oren is written by Mark Andrus (As Good as It Gets, Life as a House) as such an irredeemable jerk that it’s impossible to care about him pining and bitching over his decade long period of mourning for his wife and his past glories. This is a man so likable that he’ll openly act racist towards people, talk down to anyone who might have a better job than him (his handling of a neighbour who happens to be black and a detective is particularly “rich”), and he decides that instead of shooing a pooping stray dog off his property that he’ll just shoot him in the ass with a paintball gun. Immediately he’s the kind of person who shouldn’t be given care over a goldfish, let alone a child, but instead of actually creating an arc where realistic milestones are achieved the simple idea of love from a child and a woman is ludicrously seen as being enough for him to change his ways.
It also isn’t warranted because Keaton and her character’s construction are both shockingly terrible. She has such little agency in her own life that she allows herself to pretty much be coerced into everything Oren has in mind for them. Occasionally she’ll spout some advice and turn out to be right, but that’s not a character. That’s a plot device. Keaton has always had a naturalistic approach to acting that usually serves her well, but not here. This is a role that has to be played by someone who go big and have a bit of a personality that can bring something to the role that clearly isn’t there on the page. Instead, Keaton just seems kind of befuddled all the time. It’s not that she’s unlikable, but that she never seems like someone capable of changing someone as obstinate as Oren. It’s also written for someone who has to sing quite frequently, and in a really unnecessary twist, break down crying when thinking about her equally deceased ex-husband at the most inopportune moments in a song. It’s a device that caters to neither the story or Keaton’s biggest strengths.
At least Keaton fares better than poor Jerins, who seems like a likeable child actor, but is treated almost as an afterthought here. Oren’s daughter isn’t so much a character as she’s simply a ten year old device designed to bring these character together because Anders couldn’t figure out something a bit more clever.
Reiner, who also appears as an actor as Leah’s piano player with an unrequited crush, does what he can but it’s not as if these kinds of films are exactly known for their authorial stamps. It’s competently directed and paced with not much to say about it. There’s more to be said for his good natured supporting turn than there is for his contribution to something that could have been made by anybody. I know these movies aren’t made to display any kind of craft, so I guess he’s doing an okay job with a script that just finds Anders dusting off his own greatest hits and pining for a time when Jack Nicholson could read his dialogue.
Having Douglas in the lead helps, and it’s a good example of how a good actor can bring something to a somewhat tired and dire role. Oren isn’t likable at all, but Douglas adds charm to at least make the character vibrant enough to stick with him. He’s bringing layers to the role, and there are few people who can play comedic arrogance this well. Just watching him disdainfully refer to his rental property as “Little Shangri-La” or watching him go toe-to-toe with his positively ancient co-worker (a scene stealing Frances Sternhagen) offers the little sparks of delight the film can offer up.
But mostly the film just sits there with the dutiful resignation of someone ticking off seconds on a clock until they can go home. Reiner has certainly made worse films and both of the leads have certainly been worse and been in worse films, but it’s something that will almost be immediately forgotten about when all of their careers are talked about in the future. In that respect, the project lives up to the shrug-worthy weariness of its title.