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New Line Cinema
Official Site
Director: Peter Chelsom
Producer: Simon Fields, Andrew Karsch, Fred Roos
Written by: Michael Laughlin, Buck Henry
Cast: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, Andie McDowell, Jenna Elfman, Nastassja Kinski, Josh Hartnett, Buck Henry, Charlton Heston, Marian Seldes

Rating: out of 5

At long last, the movie TOWN & COUNTRY is being released. You may have heard of this cinematic dreadnought, which was shot in 1998, languished in the kitchen with many cooks, was reshot in April of 2000, after faring poorly at test screenings, again was handled by many cooks, and is finally being served up at a cineplex near you.

I was watching the ads and trivia slides that run on screen before movies these days, and I was struck by a quote from Warren Beatty: “Movies are fun, but they’re not a cure for cancer.” I kept thinking about this, and about the three years and $90 m. expended on TOWN & COUNTRY.

Beatty’s name has been associated with a cinematic Titanic. ISHTAR, sank at the box office, earning only $14 m. of the $40 m. spent to make it. Time will tell whether TOWN & COUNTRY’s ROI will be equally dismal, but I’m betting it will be. Why? Well as one fellow reviewer muttered, on his way out of the theatre, “It’s like watching DR. T AND THE WOMEN all over again.”

TOWN & COUNTRY puts Beatty and Keaton (REDS) together again, in a muddy, badly told story of infidelity and bobos in paradise. Starting off with the sort of Django Reinhart music that can only have been chosen deliberately to put one in the mind of a Woody Allen movie, we follow the lives and loves of the seemingly idle, creative rich. There are truly affecting and human stories of love among the consummate New Yorkers (see Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth, or Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL or HANNAH AND HER SISTERS), but in this case Buck Henry has failed to write souls for his characters. Instead their great clothes and great houses define them for us.

So what’s it about? It appears to go to great pains to play off of Beatty’s (and Bill Clinton’s) Lothario reputation. After 25 years of a good marriage to Eleanor (Keaton), Porter (Beatty) falls from grace, sleeping with a lovely young cellist (Kinski). An infidelity in the marriage of his best pals (Hawn and Shandling) is the catalyst for all this. Like salted peanuts, Porter soon finds that he can’t stop with just one. In fact, one of the better lines of the movie comes when he compares women to cocaine, and Hawn responds: “Are you going to snort me?”

But mostly the movie relies on a sort of shorthand. Just as screenwriters Laughlin and Henry were seemingly content to let wardrobe and sets define some of their characters, they let casting define others. As Andie McDowell’s dad, who may or may not have been an intimate of Ernest Hemingway, Charlton Heston’s real-life pottiness over guns stands in for actual character development. And they have relied on viewers’ familiarity with Elfman’s TV portrayal of Dharma (“Dharma and Greg”), to clue us that she’s the free spirit.

At one point, before the scales fall from her eyes, Eleanor fondly remarks to Porter that “strange and familiar” is good in new buildings and old relationships. TOWN & COUNTRY’s recipe got the measurements wrong—too much familiar, not enough strange.

—Roxanne Bogucka

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