Town and Country
Town and Country

USA, 2001. Rated R. 114 minutes.

Cast: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, Nastassja Kinski, Charlton Heston, Josh Hartnett, Tricia Vessey, Marc Casabani, Marian Seldes
Writers: Michael Laughlin & Buck Henry
Music: Rolfe Kent, J.J. Holiday (song "Preachin' the Blues")
Cinematographer: William A. Fraker
Producers: Simon Fields, Andrew S. Karsch, Fred Roos
Director: Peter Chelsom


Grade: C- Review by Carlo Cavagna

I n Town and Country, screen vets Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, and Warren Beatty prove they still have some comedy chops, but writers Michael Laughlin and Buck Henry prove they don't deserve to be writing for them. The result is a occasionally pleasant diversion with obvious conflicts and plot twists, and as many groaners as laughers.

The foursome show off their full repertoires of by-now-familiar comic mannerisms as two unsympathetically well-off couples in healthy, long-lasting marriages, except that both men are having affairs. When Griffin (Shandling) is caught cheating by his wife Mona (Hawn), Ellie (Keaton) reacts with sanctimonious shock, and her husband, Porter (Beatty) uneasily plays along as his own life begins to spin out of control. The laughs come not from Porter's farcical efforts to conceal his own affair (which are blessedly minimal), but from Porter's increasing discomfort with the contrast between reality and everyone's perception of him as the most reliable, steady family man in the history of human relationships. Eventually, without any real sense of purpose or conviction, Town and Country reaches the conclusion that comedies about philandering usually reach. The resolution incorporates the obligatory speech, of course.Shandling and Beatty fish for plot

Displaying his trademark mildly befuddled self-absorption, Beatty makes an engaging lead. He's eight to twelve years older than his three co-stars, but he's so well-preserved that it's easy to believe he's 55 instead of 64. He's the lead actor by default, because Town and Country doesn't stick with its other plot lines. For example, Ellie and her children's efforts to cope with the truth about Porter are only briefly touched upon. Similarly, the tension between Griffin's affair and marriage, a potentially interesting conflict for reasons best left for viewers to discover, isn't explored beyond how it affects and reflects on Porter. Garry Shandling is therefore underused. He has raised his portrayal of oblivious self-centeredness to an art form in productions like What Planet Are You From? and HBO's The Larry Sanders Show, but he doesn't get to do what he does best in Town and Country.

Instead, the movie takes a number of detours involving supporting actresses Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, and Nastassja Kinski, (starring collectively as Attractive Women Who Throw Themselves at Warren Beatty), as well as a gratuitous appearance as a gun-wielding oddball by NRA president Charlton Heston. It's not enough that Heston has become a parody of himself; he is now reduced to playing roles that parody his own parody. In time, he'll be playing parodies of his parody's parody, and then we'll all be very confused. The razor-sharp raunchy barbs exchanged by Heston's, uh, character and his wheelchair-bound wife (Marian Seldes) provide some laughs, but the whole Heston episode amounts to an all-out farce that clashes badly with the lighter humor of the rest of the film.

Had Town and Country been a modest production with unknown actors, it might have been considered a lukewarm success--maybe. But as a $90 million-or-so production with an A-list cast, it's almost another Ishtar. Unlike Ishtar, Beatty didn't produce Town and Country, so it's not his fault. It's not any of the actors' faults. Blame Laughlin and Henry. Or, since at least Henry (The Graduate, To Die For, Protocol, What's Up Doc?) has quality scripts on his resume, perhaps we should blame the nondescript direction and slipshod film editing, which fail to draw out any of the conflicts in an interesting way and leave the distinct impression that large parts of the story are missing. Or, better yet, blame nobody. There's not much of a reason to care whose fault it is.

Review © May 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2000 2001 New Line Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

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