21 August 2003 | philipdavies
Just occasionally, Hollywood still lets us have a grown-up entertainment ...
The headlong screwball comedy of this breakneck romance of two stressed-out single parents is a delight from beginning to end. It has scenes as quick witted - and often as wackily off-kilter! - as the adults must be just in order to survive their average day. Stir love into this mess of two increasingly desparate modern lives and you get a miraculous souffle of a film, at once sharp and sweet.
No scene is laboured, no point is telegraphed, and - phenomenally for a modern American film - neither kids nor kittens are allowed to smother the audience in the nauseous layers of cutesiness that are usually applied. The scene with the analyst, where Clooney must obscure his account of his sex-life in an ever-more-surrealistic periphrasis involving iced cakes and fish, since his little daughter has to accompany him into the presumably crecheless analyst's surgery, and her dad is embarassed to expose her to such adult matters as he is obliged to reveal during the session, is a scene which is a model of intelligent and stylish comedy writing. The dialogue of both himself and his analyst finally founders on the increasingly strained comparisons and metaphors being attempted. The analyst begins to construct an alarmingly kinky lifestyle for his client out of what he takes to be Freudian suggestions - but which are, as noted, merely the product of old-fashioned seemliness - whereupon Clooney is forced to bring the whole towering edifice back down to earth when his version of the morning's business with the goldfish gets mixed up in the heady brew of symbolism: 'No. I mean fish. You know - 'Fish' fish?'
The humour is all good, never strained, and beautifully played by all the principals, including the wonderfully un-sentimentalised children. The transformation, stage-by-stage, of the harsh mutual competition and resentment that exists at first between these harassed adults, into an exhausted truce, by way of barely-restrained irritation, grudging gratitude, reluctant respect, and growing affection, is handled with considerable dramatic finesse throughout.
To produce the unlikely union of such an ill-assorted pair under such utterly unpropitious and unromantic circumstances is a comedic challenge of considerable proportions, and the makers of this film do an excellent job to bring it off at all. The spirits of Grant and Hepburn - even Beatrice and Benedict - are not too far away.
The only disappointment is to see how many people in the audience have gone home just as sour as when they arrived, judging from some of the comments here. But then, love curdles in any mean-spirited breast.
One particularly admires the fact that, at its conclusion, the film's romantic clincher - when the tired-out couple have to settle for just falling asleep together, despite their by now clearly desparate need for each other, - insists upon the importance of exactly this: Love, rather than merely lust, as the basis for an adult relationship.
Just occasionally, Hollywood still lets us have a grown-up entertainment. It makes a pleasant and wholesome change from the usual fare of adolescent dreams.