Review by Dustin Putman
1 star out of 4
"Meg Ryan is irresistible in the comedy that celebrates sisterhood!,"
screams the television ads for "Hanging Up," disastrously written by
real-life sisters Delia and Nora Ephron and sloppily directed by Diane
Keaton. Make me laugh again! Not only is "Hanging Up" misadvertised, since
the film wholeheartedly focuses on middle sister Meg Ryan and gives her two
co-stars, Lisa Kudrow and Diane Keaton, little more than extended cameos, but
they don't actually come together until the final ten to fifteen minutes. And
we are supposed to believe their strong bond, and smile in the last scene
when they rekindle their rocky relationship, despite them being apart for the
majority of the running time? Excuse me, again, while I almost bust a gut at
that truly delusional notion.
Eve Marks (Meg Ryan) is the middle Mozzell sister, still living in the
California town where she grew up, and with a husband (Adam Arkin) and
pre-teen son (Jesse James). Her elderly, wisecracking father, Lou (Walter
Matthau, in his brightest performance in years) has just recently been put
into the hospital, in the final stages of what I assume is Alzheimer's (even
though the film never enlightens us on exactly what is wrong with him). While
Eve's relationship with her mother (Cloris Leachman) is nearly nonexistent,
since she ran out on Lou and her children years ago, she has had her fair
share of up's and down's with Lou, who used to be an alcoholic. Her older
sister is Georgia (Diane Keaton), an editor for the self-titled magazine,
"Georgia," while Maddy (Lisa Kudrow) is the youngest, a soap opera actress.
Interestingly, their professions are given, but we not once ever see them
working at their jobs, or, for that matter, learn much of anything about
them. Maddy, Georgia, and Eve do not see each other much anymore, their adult
lives gradually causing them to drift apart, but they do manage to
consistently talk on the phone to one another. And they talk. And talk. And
In fact, the telephone is the major star of the film, even more so than
Ryan, as it appears in virtually every scene of this interminable 92-minute
catastrophe that feels like its three hours long. If you are able to get
through the opening half-hour, in which phones ring so much you feel like
jumping through the screen and taking a sledgehammer to them, you will surely
survive the rest. The question is, who would want to subject themselves to
this resolutely irritating, self-involved pat-on-the-back?
How could a comedy-drama that has the star-power of Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow,
and Diane Keaton be so very bad in so many different ways? Issues from the
past involving the possible jealousy each has had for one of the others is
fleetingly brought up, but the film isn't mature enough to deal with such a
thing in a thoughtful manner, and since we learn next to nothing about their
childhood, it is a lost cause that comes off as nothing more than an
afterthought. Also, it is expected that the viewer quickly catch on to the
tricky dynamic that the three sisters have with one another, but no dynamic
metamorphosizes. And when they do reunite in the finale, their whole
consanguinity is reduced to a repulsively annoying three-minute scene in
which they argue like little children. You can see the impending death coming
a mile away, and it conveniently occurs in the next scene, so that the three
can quickly come to terms with themselves, and with each other. You think to
yourself: "The only thing left for them to do is have a playful food-fight,"
and like clockwork, it also occurs by the end credits.
Meg Ryan is a versatile actress (look no further than 1998's "Hurlyburly" or
1994's "When a Man Loves a Woman"), despite her various detractors who
stubbornly believe all she can do is romantic comedies. With "Hanging Up,"
the only thing she needs to do is completely sever her filmmaking ties with
Nora Ephron, a writer/director/hack who shouldn't be allowed to work in
Hollywood again after this big-budget, high-profile debacle. Even if she knew
what she was making was not exactly up to par in the quality department, she
nonetheless is very good, and the two scenes that work, flashbacks to
Christmas 1988, when she had a heartbreaking run-in with her mother, and to
Halloween 1993, when Lou crashed her son's birthday party in a drunken
stupor, are effective because of the realism Ryan brings to the situations.
Diane Keaton, as Georgia, is better as an actress than a director here, but
that is a wildly feeble compliment. What is more than a little far-fetched is
that Keaton is distinctly older than Ryan and Kudrow, although in the very
brief glimpses we get at them as children, she is no more than five years
Ryan's senior. Yeah, right.
Lastly, poor Lisa Kudrow has been wasted once again in a big-screen venture,
after her even more thin role in 1999's "Analyze This." Kudrow isn't given
enough time to create a full personality with Maddy, so it isn't her fault
she doesn't register until a few quiet moments sprinkled throughout where she
is actually blessed with being given dialogue. If anything, though, Kudrow is
a real talent, and I anxiously await the next time she is given a role more
deserving of her time, as in her brilliantly nuanced, Oscar-caliber work in
1998's "The Opposite of Sex." If you are a fan of Kudrow's (and who isn't?),
do yourself a favor and rent this gem that puts more good use to Kudrow in
sixty seconds than "Hanging Up" does in its entirety.
As Eve's hardworking husband, Adam Arkin is, predictably, squandered with a
role that gives him next to nothing to do, until a subplot reveals itself
midway through, only to never be mentioned again. Cloris Leachman, as with
Ryan and Matthau, makes a small, but noticeable impression with her, albeit,
very brief appearance, while Edie McClurg, as a rosy-cheeked woman Lou had an
affair with in the Christmas 1988 flashback, manages one of the few laughs in
this otherwise joyless production.
Nearly all the emotions displayed within "Hanging Up" are patently
manufactured, and despite the movie wanting the viewer to care about the
characters, aside from Eve, why would you want to when they are all spoiled
brats? If, for some bizarre, "Twilight Zone"-type of reason, you find
yourself in a movie theater showing this film, my suggestion would be to hang
up on it before the opening credits are over. Saying it is a waste of time is
an understatement of epic proportions.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman