A second marriage is, as Samuel Johnson famously said, “The triumph of hope over experience.” And as lyricist Sammy Cahn wrote in the song Bing Crosby sang in “High Time,” “Love is lovelier the second time around.” In this slight but endearing new film, director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Mark Andrus (“As Good as it Gets”) bring us an autumn-years love story. Oscar-winners Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton play two characters with little in common but the experience of great loss, the knowledge that love carries great risks, and the fear that there may not be another chance.
Douglas is Oren, a successful realtor and even more successful misanthrope. He insults people. He is bitter. He shoots a dog with a paintball gun. He does not like anyone and no one likes him, with the exception of his longtime colleague played by the invaluable Frances Sternhagen. Keaton plays Leah, a widow experimenting with singing at a restaurant. She is universally beloved, especially by her neighbors in a fourplex and her loyal accompanist (played by the director himself). Oren lives in the fourplex, too, ironically named “Little Shangri-La,” and is revealed early on to be the owner as well. He hopes for one last big-ticket house sale so he can retire and move away and never deal with anyone ever again.
But life has a way of entangling those who most try to rid themselves of obligations and relationships — at least in movies. Oren’s long-estranged son arrives to inform his father that (1) he is no longer a drug addict, (2) he has a daughter, and (3) he needs Oren to care for her while he serves a prison term.
Oren refuses, saying “I already tried to raise a kid and it didn’t work out.” So Leah steps in and says the girl can stay with her. She is Sarah (Sterling Jerins). And anyone who has ever seen a movie (or read “Heidi”) knows that the girl will charm her grandfather and open the hurting hearts of both Oren and Leah to her and to each other. Oren finally admits to Leah, “I like you and I don’t like anyone.”
Despite contemporary references like “Duck Dynasty” and “Hoarders,” this film has a musty, retro feel, like a script that has been sitting in a drawer for a couple of decades. The plot is predictable and creaky. An attempt to return Sarah to her mother goes exactly the way you think. The caterpillar Sarah collects is exactly the metaphor you think. The pregnant neighbor provides exactly the opportunity for Oren’s showing what he is capable of that you thought but hoped you could avoid. The racial humor is painfully out of date, so you didn’t predict it, but that does not make it a good surprise. Far from it.
What the movie does have, though, is Douglas and Keaton, and they triumph over the limitations of the material, making us believe that the greatest love in our lives may still be waiting for us.
Parents should know that this film includes sexual references, some crude, childbirth scene, some strong language, some racial insults, drinking, drug abuse, references to sad deaths
Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Oren to be nice to people? How did Leah make Sarah feel at home?
If you like this, try: “As Good as It Gets” and “Something’s Gotta Give”