The Films of Nancy Meyers
The Parent Trap (May 29/05)
The Parent Trap is exactly the sort of easy-going, endlessly engaging family film that seems to have become an unusually rare breed in this day and age. Stripped of needless pop culture references and the sort of ironic detachment that seems to accompany every new family-oriented production, The Parent Trap is essentially the definition of good, old-fashioned entertainment. The movie - which follows twins Hallie and Annie (Lindsay Lohan) as they conspire to bring their divorced parents (Dennis Quaid's Nick and Natasha Richardson's Elizabeth) back together - marks the final collaboration between husband-and-wife filmmaking team Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer prior to their divorce, and it seems clear that the two work a whole lot better together than apart (ie Meyers' first post-marriage effort was the underwhelming What Women Want). Right from the opening frames, it's clear that director Meyers isn't interested in peppering the film with a lot of quick cuts and loud songs; rather, the story begins with an old standard by Nat King Cole that effectively and appropriately gets things off to a romantic start. It's a smart choice on Shyer and Meyers' part, given the sort of amorous undertones with which they've imbued the film. Aside from Elizabeth and Nick's rekindled love affair, there's a wonderful subplot involving a burgeoning romance between Elizabeth's butler (played by Simon Kunz) and Nick's assistant (Lisa Ann Walter). It certainly doesn't hurt that Quaid has never been more charismatic, something that goes a long way towards establishing Nick's chemistry with Elizabeth (Richardson is just as good, though the actress is never quite able to approach Quaid's level of pure charm). Of course, the effectiveness of everything in the film hinges on Lohan and her ability to persuade us that she's two distinct, separate characters. Though her experience was limited to a stint on a soap opera, the actress does a phenomenal job of stepping into the shoes of both Annie and Hallie (and even pulls off a convincing British accent). It's easy enough to see why Lohan has since become a huge star, as she possesses a sort of easy-going likability that's generally impossible to learn. Now, this isn't to say that The Parent Trap is perfect; with a running time of over two hours, the film is a little on the long side (though it never feels overlong). There are certain aspects within the screenplay that could've easily been trimmed - ie Nick's relationship with bitchy fiancee Meredith (Elaine Hendrix) - yet that's an awfully minor complaint given how utterly entertaining The Parent Trap is from start to finish.
What Women Want
Something's Gotta Give (December 14/03)
Something's Gotta Give, written and directed by Nancy Meyers, takes two stellar actors - Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson - and throws them into a film that's too indecisive and plotless to ever live up to their performances. Keaton stars as a successful playwright that's used to living on her own, until she meets the aging boyfriend (Nicholson) of her daughter. Sparks fly, and the two become fast friends. Something's Gotta Give's not nearly as fun and breezy as it should be, as it's weighed down by a terminally slow pace and overlong running time (over two hours!) The story feels as though it's a personal one for Meyers, with Keaton playing a fictionalized version of herself, giving the film a feeling of therapy. As a result, Meyers tends to let Keaton run wild through the film - resulting in a performance that's unrestrained (which is one way of putting it; another would be to say she goes way over-the-top). The whole thing's just too pointless to ever become involving - it's essentially a series of vignettes featuring Keaton and her nutty misadventures. The film's lone bright spot is Keanu Reeves' performance as a doctor with a crush on Keaton. He is completely charming and charismatic in this role, to the extent that it's impossible not to wish that he were the film's focus.
Though overlong by at least a half hour (much like filmmaker Nancy Meyers' last two films, What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give), The Holiday is nevertheless an entertaining romp that succeeds on a level of pure escapism. The story follows two strangers - Kate Winslet's Iris and Cameron Diaz's Amanda - as they impulsively decide to swap houses for a couple of weeks, with Iris moving to Los Angeles and Amanda heading for England. Romance ensues after Amanda encounters Iris' smoldering brother Graham (Jude Law) and Iris forms a tentative bond with outgoing composer Miles (Jack Black). Meyers' screenplay hits all of the notes promised by the premise - including, of course, at least one fake break-up - and yet there's no denying the effectiveness of both Meyers' light-hearted touch and the almost uniformly likeable performances (Diaz's sporadically grating persona notwithstanding).
There's little doubt that It's Complicated comes off as an almost prototypical Nancy Meyers production, as the film possesses many of the elements one has come to expect from her work - including characters that are almost uniformly affluent, an emphasis on relationships (and the various problems that ensue therein), and a running time that's at least a half hour too long. The plot follows successful baker Jane (Meryl Streep) as she embarks on an affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin's Jake), with the coupling inevitably complicated by Jane's attraction to a down-to-earth architect (Steve Martin's Adam). It's worth noting that It's Complicated generally sustains the viewer's interest from start to finish, as Meyers does a nice job of heightening the unapologetically light-hearted atmosphere with a sporadic emphasis on comedic interludes that are undeniably quite funny (ie Jane and Adam get stoned before heading out to a party). The impressively charismatic work of the movie's various performers certainly goes a long way towards perpetuating the affable atmosphere, with the stars' compelling work backed up by an impressively diverse supporting cast that includes Zoe Kazan, Lake Bell, and John Krasinski (with the latter's effortlessly scene-stealing turn as Jane's harried son-in-law an obvious highlight). The movie's less-than-dense storyline ultimately proves its most overt deficiency, however, as Meyers' meandering modus operandi ensures that It's Complicated demonstrably begins to run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark - although, to be fair, the admittedly uneven vibe can't quite dampen what is otherwise an affable and downright breezy romcom romp.