Town & Country
2001, R, 106 min. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, Jenna Elfman, Nastassja Kinski, Andie Mcdowell, Charlton Heston, Marian Seldes.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 4, 2001
Though Town & Country's title refers to its characters' dual residences, it also calls to mind those smarmy style magazines that like to splash across their pages the fruits of famous peoples' riches. And it's an apt association, considering that, here, “town” means Fifth Avenue and “country” is a charming little beachfront property in the Hamptons … and the ski cabin in Sun Valley … and the Gothic mansion in Mississippi. Architect Porter Stoddard (Beatty) shuttles back and forth between residences, living the very good life with his wife of 25 years, Ellie (Keaton), and their two startlingly well-adjusted children. But when his best friend Griffin (Shandling) is caught cheating on wife Mona (Hawn), Porter's own infidelities become an increasing burden for him. To cheat or not to cheat? Or rather, to tell or not to tell? As for me, the question that kept boring holes in my head was whether to walk or run like hell out of the theatre. The production of Town & Country was notoriously plagued from start to finish: Reels of footage were mysteriously lost, reshoot after reshoot was ordered, and the release date was repeatedly bumped. Now, four years in the making, upward of a year past original due date, the film has finally limped into theatres, and, my god, what a dog it is. It's bewildering how such a collection of talents (who boast a dozen-plus Oscar nominations among them) could contribute to such a catastrophically bad film … and it's little surprise that most of them have disavowed it. The four leads play mild variations on their public personas -- Beatty, an affable ladies' man; Hawn, a sex-kitteny thing short on smarts; etc. -- and the result is stupendously boring. And infuriating, too, watching these excessively, obscenely monied characters who happen to be played by excessively, obscenely monied actors. Under their collagened guidance, the characters' tribulations are trivial; their lifestyles so completely removed from regular people's realities that they seem irrelevant. Their attributes are thin at best -- Porter likes dogs? He must be a good guy! He lets their housemaid's Third World revolutionary boyfriend sleep over? How liberal! While the script (by Michael Laughlin and Buck Henry) is as much to blame for the flaccidness of Town & Country as the actors, at least it tries. The script's tone veers chaotically -- and ambitiously -- at once aiming for a Noel Coward kind of elegant sparring, then for the lightly raunchy, rompy absurdism of What's New, Pussycat?. There's zero cohesion between the scenes, and the film is episodic in the worst of ways, but every once in a while one of those episodes hits the mark. Screen veterans Charlton Heston and Marian Seldes make a manically funny cameo as a squabbling, sexually frustrated married couple (she wants it; he won't give it up). Heston bellows for a stirrer for his drink; his wife, lurching about in her mechanized wheelchair and demolitioning everything in her path, pauses long enough to snipe that he should use his “big, swinging dick” as a swizzle-stick. It's a moment of shocking hilarity -- shocking in part because that's Ben Hur's member she's referring to, but shocking mostly in that the moment belongs in a much sharper, fresher, and funnier film than this cinematic equivalent of spoiled goods.