Here’s one of my favorite Hollywood stories: In 1994, writer/director James L. Brooks made a musical called I’ll Do Anything. Ever the risk-taker, Brooks shot the film as a song and dance fest and had stars Nick Nolte and Albert Brooks perform numbers written by Prince and Sinead O’Conner. A legendarily hostile preview screening led Brooks to cut out the musical bits and the film was released as a straight romantic comedy. You have to give the guy credit for taking a chance like that (and here’s hoping the director’s cut will one day surface!). More than anything, that story always makes me look forward to a James L. Brooks film.
His latest stars Reese Witherspoon as a softball player who is cut from her team and takes comfort in the arms of a baseball player (Owen Wilson) with a reputation for being a ladies’ man. Meanwhile, father-and-son business partners (Jack Nicholson and Paul Rudd) find their reputations going down in flames after a scandal hits their office. The two worlds eventually collide and a unique romantic triangle (or some other geometic shape) forms where, regardless of who ends up with whom, the result will be an odd, damaged pairing.
The dialogue is larger than life, obviously the work of a screenwriter but containing honesty and universal truths. I enjoy stylized and showy scripts, but some won’t buy it; like Quentin Tarantino, Brooks writes how we wish we could talk, not how we actually do.
Some scenes feel sitcom-y, especially Nicholson’s—his extended cameo is fun but he does more for the role than it does for him. Rudd perfects the adorable dweeb he has been playing for years and Wilson is funny as an alpha male who wants to settle down but struggles with monogamy. Witherspoon certainly looks the part of a softball player (her extensive training shows) and the role is in line with the typically strong female leads Brooks has written in the past, but this is one of Witherspoon’s most mannered performances; I liked her work but you can see her working really hard at it.
Some scenes feel sloppy and should have been cut, like a subplot involving Rudd’s loyal secretary. On the other hand, Nicholson should have been given more to do and it would have been nice to actually see footage of Wilson and Witherspoon playing the sports their characters are so passionate about.
If this sounds like a negative review, it isn’t. This is all perfectly pleasant and entertaining—a fine date movie. It just doesn’t display much of the fearless bravado Brooks is capable of. In other words, it’s no Sinead O’Conner musical.