Don't worry at all about the annoying hip-hop played over the opening credits. It's there merely to give a little aural background to one of the protagonists: post-middle-aged bachelor Harry Langer (Jack Nicholson), who owns Drive-By Records and has a reputation for not dating women over 30. The music goes away, but Harry's just getting started and having a ball with life. He stops every now and then to rub his chest.

This is called foreshadowing.

Harry's newest under-30 date is the lovely Marin Barry (Amanda Peet), who thinks it would be great to have Harry join her at her mom's fancy beach house while Mom is away. Oops -- Mom, successful playwright Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) shows up at the wrong time, with her sister Zoe (Frances McDormand) tagging along.

Harry's first thoughts upon meeting Erica? Well, he has none, beyond telling her how he loves the bachelor life, how he's so far "escaped the noose." Erica's first reaction to meeting Harry? One word: daggers.

So begins a wonderfully old-fashioned romantic comedy, written and directed by Nancy Meyers (What Women Want), filled with complications and misunderstandings and missed opportunities, as well as a nice chunk of sparkling verbal humor and slapstick. (It's not too often that we get to see Jack Nicholson take some well-executed pratfalls.)

Before long, the script has risen to many levels of complexity, though it's not a movie that's filled with many surprises. The business of Harry rubbing his chest plays out as a prelude to a heart attack -- a mild one, mind you, but one that leads to young and handsome Dr. Mercer (Keanu Reeves) ordering his patient to recover at the beach house. One has to wonder about this decision, because the good doctor also happens to be attracted -- at first sight -- to Erica, every one of whose plays he's seen.

More complexities kick in. Dr. Mercer isn't just a fan, he isn't just attracted - he's smitten by Erica. Yet when he tells her this, she can't quite compute. A 20-year age difference will do this to some people. Of course, in a film with no surprises, it's no surprise that the relationship between Harry and Erica is going to change, or that there are going to be hints of a triangle. The film's biggest question then arises: Is Harry too old to be carrying on with Marin, but Erica not too old to be carrying on with Dr. Mercer?

By the end, the question has been dealt with, and the answer is going to cause different reactions in different viewers. But getting to that point is so pleasurable, so charming a movie-going event, that it really doesn't matter who Erica finally chooses.

Meyers has good ideas at work all the way through, though she's done a bit of borrowing. Much of Something's Gotta Give features scenes reminiscent of Woody Allen's middle period, circa Annie Hall and Manhattan. A lengthy scene of Harry and Erica walking along a beach - and actually talking, rather than insulting each other -- would have fit in either Allen film. And the way Meyers directs some very funny scenes toward more heartwarming ones comes from the Nora Ephron school of filmmaking -- though Meyers maintains an edge Ephron has never displayed.

Reeves, in a supporting role, gives one of his better recent performances - he's all eager smiles, as opposed to what seem to be his usual grimace and scowl -- and McDormand, in an all-too-short part, is as feisty as we've ever seen her. Still, the film belongs to Keaton and Nicholson. Each of them gets to do a nude scene: Hers is brief, startling, and funny, his (only from behind) is longer and hilarious. And they share a bedroom scene to remember: two great actors making it funny, moving, romantic, sexy.

There are a couple too many sequences of Harry having chest pains and a side plot involving Erica's ex-husband (Paul Michael Glaser) suddenly announcing that he's getting remarried. The announcement alone would suffice, but the script drags some of the characters together for some unnecessary twists that go nowhere and serve only to take attention away from the main story. It takes a while, but the film finally regains its footing.

Which means it settles back on the two principals, both of whom play comedy very well. Keaton and Nicholson are just as great at having their characters confused by each other as they are at making each other deliriously happy.

A Movie Night of Remembrance: The Woman King @ Magic Lantern Theatre

Thu., Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m.
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