LOVE DON'T CO$T A THING
starring Nick Cannon, Jordan Burg, Jackie Benoit, George Cedar
screenplay by Troy Beyer and Michael Swerdlick, based on Swerdlick's screenplay Can't Buy Me Love
directed by Troy Beyer
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE
starring Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves
written and directed by Nancy Meyers
by Walter Chaw The only thing stranger than an urban remake of the late-'80s Patrick Dempsey teensploitation flick Can't Buy Me Love is a blow-by-blow remake of 2000's What Women Want, the latter suddenly more understandable in light of the stultifying limitations John Gray-disciple Nancy Meyers brings to the table as writer-director of that unforgivable rom-com and the dedicatedly unremarkable Something's Gotta Give as well. The disturbing realization is that both Love Don't Co$t a Thing and Something's Gotta Give are products of women filmmakers, writing and directing films in an industry, at least in the United States, still dominated by men--and that both films are non-descript, fairly unflattering to women, definitively unkind to men, and ostensible comedies that wring the genre dry with great droughts of meet-cute, contrivance, bad direction, and enough predictable, twee dialogue to fill a dozen Ephron sisters pictures.
With the great Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat, Lone Scherfig, Sally Potter, Jane Campion, and so on (and where have you gone, Antonia Bird?) making wonderful, challenging films, it's fair to wonder, probably rhetorically, what it is about the Hollywood system that casts such a democratizing spell over filmmakers of all backgrounds and experiences. What's a shame isn't that Love Don't Co$t a Thing and Something's Gotta Give are every bit as bad as you'd expect them to be, but rather that, given the opportunity, Meyers and Troy Beyer have crafted pictures every bit as shallow and disingenuous as those of their glad-handing male counterparts. Ah, true equality: not being held to a higher standard and, accordingly, producing the same kind of gender-blind garbage about which it appears useless to complain.
Love Don't Co$t a Thing finds Alvin (Nick Cannon), a brilliant engineering prospect, trading in college funds for a couple of weeks of popular cheerleader Paris (Christina Milan) pretending to be his girlfriend. Who woulda thunk that Paris could develop feelings for lovable clown Alvin--or that Alvin would become a monster in need of his own redemptive moment? That question of surprise as an overrated component of delight is raised again in Meyers's Something's Gotta Give as aging philanderer Harry (aging philanderer Jack Nicholson) meets his squeeze's (Amanda Peet) mom Erica (Diane Keaton), and finds his views on never dating anyone less than thirty-six years younger than him challenged by a woman only nine years younger than him. Erica is a successful playwright and so fastidiously immaculate that her perfection feels like aggression. (She's Martha Stewart with a better wardrobe and an image consultant.) Who woulda thunk that despite the twin distractions of Peet on the one side and Keanu Reeves (as a doctor--a joke that tells itself) on the other, that the two senior thespians would find true bliss with one another?
There is so little in the way of surprise in these films, in fact, that it raises the question of why it is that anyone would ever bother going to see them in the first place. In each instance, I suspect it has something to do with a desire in marginalized demographics (young African-Americans, old WASPs) to see representations of themselves, however hoary or plastic, reflected on the screen, their regard for the fact that the pictures have nothing to do with reality so much as cruel, double-edged stereotypes minimal at best. Consider the scene in Meyers's film where Harry sees Erica naked and the sources mined for hilarity, then consider the scene in Beyer's film where an aged white couple marvels at Cannon the pool boy's dancing ability--moments part and parcel, really, of the habitual misconceptions that all urban youth have psychopathic sermonizing fathers (Steve Harvey) and all upper crust bluebloods live on the sets of Town and Country.
Where Beyer's picture climaxes with some falderal about cribbing song lyrics (themselves cribbed from the worst of Maya Angelou), Meyers's picture ends with something like six mutually exclusive epilogues--negating the need for a DVD special edition featuring alternate endings because no choices, apparently, have been made. Neither manage to comment on the way that society treats their charges (black youth and the elderly), nor do they nod to the realities of the respective cultures depicted, although these pictures do manage to provide ironic commentary on the ways that precious opportunities to contribute something of value to important conversations are sacrificed at the crowded altar of filthy lucre. It's the old sneaker school of filmmaking, Something's Gotta Give and Love Don't Co$t a Thing: they don't look good, they don't smell good, they're ultimately without value and should have been banished to the rubbish bin ages ago--but they'll also never be uncomfortable or prickly in any way. For specific audiences so desperate for representation (or just aggressively undemanding of their entertainments), that old familiar stink is just what Dr. Keanu ordered. Originally published: December 17, 2003.