Retro Review: Town & Country

If you are expecting high octane excitement then you are definitely watching the wrong movie.

“Town & Country” is one of those ensemble cast films that looks absolutely brilliant on paper but falls flat when it finally unfolds. This ensemble consists of Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Nastassja Kinski, Andie MacDowell, Jenna Elfman, Charlton Heston and Gary Shandling.

Co-written by Hollywood veteran Buck Henry, the film chronicles the life, love, friendship and the ups and downs of marriage.

Beatty plays Porter Stoddard, a wealthy architect who seems to be baffled by everything going on his life including his wife (Keaton), mistress (Kinski), best-friend (Shandling) and his best friend’s wife (Hawn).

The continually confusing dynamics of his life have left Porter wandering around his life wondering where his life has gone.

“Town & Country” is as difficult to watch as it is to find an actual plot. This film has the style and wit of a Woody Allen film but no Woody.

What have made Woody Allen films so brilliant, over the years, are the scenes that allow the actors to just ramble in lengthy conversations.

These ramble sessions are called ad-libbing and always make for interesting and cerebral cinema.

Some actors can do this without hesitation and Woody has always worked with those kinds of seasoned actors.

The ensemble, in “Town & Country”, is a brilliant mix but really seem lost when a lot of lengthy key scenes require brilliant ad-libbing. This is why this film implodes in crucial moments.

In those key scenes, Beatty, Hawn, and Elfman seem very lost as they try to find somewhere to go with the spontaneous ad-libbing. Beatty will drop his head or look off in a lot of the scenes causing more comfortable ad-libbers like Keaton and Shandling to wonder if he is really with them.

Diane Keaton learned her ad-libbing skill from all her performances with Woody Allen and Shandling did a lot of it when he was doing the “Larry Sanders Show”.

This exposure to the craft is why they are the best performances in the film. The often lost and bewildered Beatty is a key reason why this film doesn’t work. He just can’t handle those scenes.

When the ad-libbing works, the scenes are fun and a joy to watch. The most imaginative and interesting scenes involved the psychotic performance of Heston and his baby-doll daughter, MacDowell. Heston pokes fun at his ARA guru persona and it’s a real belly laugh.

On a couple personal notes, I have always enjoyed Diane Keaton and the great range she has fine-tuned as an actress.

The scenes where Keaton comes unglued as she reacts to finding out Beatty is having an affair or that she can’t control all the destructive elements of a dinner party falling apart are brilliant. Keaton continues to be one of the best actresses working today.

If Woody Allen would have done this film, the budget wouldn’t have skyrocketed to over $100 million dollars, he would have focused more on the stronger ad-libbers and he would have been the Beatty character.

(2 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Side Note: Since this film did exceed over $100 million, it became one of the factors of why New Line CEO Michael DeLuca had to step down. The other factor was the disastrous Adam Sandler vehicle, “Little Nicky”. The film’s skyrocketing budget was due to tons of re-shoots for the final cut and an expensive alternate ending which was spliced on to the final product. Also in the re-shoots, the Warren Beatty character was re-worked so that he would be more likeable and less harsh. It really is a shame because when films are heavily retooled, they always fail. Take “The Island of Dr Moreau” and “Supernova” as two of the biggest flops who fell to studio retooling. Alas, when will they learn?

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