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Town and Country

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Town and Country

Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton
Director: Peter Chelson
Rated: R
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Garry Shandling, Goldie Hawn, Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, Josh Hartnett, Nastassja Kinski, Buck Henry, Charlton Heston, Marian Seldes

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The scene in the play and movie "Amadeus" that I remembered most occurred during the height of the competition between Salieri, the second-rate favorite of the nobility, and the first-class Mozart--who was considered an upstart and hardly appreciated by the foppish aristos. When the young Amadeus played one of his recent compositions for the Austrian court, the emperor agreed with his adviser and said, "Too many notes." This line rightly provoked one of the biggest laughs of that moving play: of course, we who know anything about music can look with hindsight and see that Mozart's "too many" notes were nothing short of celestial, but if you want to talk literature or movies or theater, "too many" of anything could prove disastrous. Such is the case with "Town & Country," Peter Chelsom's alleged comedy which began filming some three years ago prior to its release today. If you check out the stories about this movie in the papers this weekend, you'll learn that the real comedy took place in its making, particularly when ten reels of film got lost somewhere along the line. "Town & Country" has too many characters meeting coincidentally too many times while the first-rate cast for this second-rate movie moves around to too many locations. If the proof of the celluloid is in the laughing, an audience with any sophistication would be hard put to summon up much more than a grin at a bedroom farce that I thought went out decades ago with Feydeau.

The aim of the writers, Buck Henry and Michael Laughlin, appears to be to show that the 50-something generation can be just as foolish as teens, and when the older folks seem to have everything going for them, they're twice as asinine as the Freddie-Got-Fingered crowd because they presumably should know better. Fans of top performers like Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton might feel particularly pained sitting in the audience watching them act in such an oddly unfunny burlesque, and I'd not blame them for thinking that the performers must have spent their nights dreaming of the more sophisticated comedy of manners that Woody Allen could have written for them.

The story takes off in Woody-Allen setting, in fact, in a plush Manhattan apartment that finds architect Porter Stoddard (Warren Beatty) pretending to enjoy a classical work performed in the nude by young cellist Alex (Nastassja Kinski). In the first of a long series of swiftly edited changes, Porter and his wife of 25 years, Ellie (Diane Keaton) are in Paris for their anniversary joined by their best friends, antique dealer Griffin (Garry Shandling) and his wife Mona (Goldie Hawn)--who comment on how rock-solid their pals' marriage seems to be. But things unravel swiftly after that as first Mona and later Ellie discover that their husbands are pursuing affairs.

Some of the humor comes from the Feydeau-like scenes in which characters, darting from room to room to evade prying eyes, do their best to hide when about to be caught in compromising positions. But director Chelsom gives the impression that he's run out of ideas early on and so he orchestrates an improbable jumble of events that come at us with almost the speed of an MTV commercial as first Eugenie (Andie MacDowell) enters the action as a dizzy jet-setter who invites Porter to her manor and then Auburn (Jenna Elfman), a well-read, freespirited proprietor of a hardware store at an Idaho resort, takes Porter on in the snow while the frazzled man is dressed in a polar bear outfit.

While Diane Keaton retains her dignity throughout, Charlton Heston is at opposite ends at Eugenie's overprotective father, who comes after Porter with a rifle and whose wheelchair- bound wife (Marian Seldes) utters a string of gratuitous curse words that make us wonder whether she has Tourette's Syndrome in addition to her more obvious disability.

The moral of the story appears to be that you chose your partner above all others, now live with that choice and be faithful and don't screw up your life with meaningless affairs. But Chelsom appears to distrust his material (with just cause), distracting us repeatedly by cutting from one scene to another, as though he is himself disconcerted by the lameness of the comedy.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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