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Hanging Up

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 25 February 2000

Directed by Diane Keaton.

Starring Meg Ryan, 
Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, 
Walter Matthau, and Adam Arkin.

 Written by Nora Ephron and Delia Ephron
based on the novel by
Delia Ephron.

Self-absorbed, one-dimensional characters cast adrift in a plain-wrapper story about three sisters in search of themselves and each other do not an enjoyable film make. Diane Keaton’s sophomore and sophomoric fictional feature effort is drenched in sentimentality and wafer-thin egocentric pontifications on eminent death and strained relationships. Sibling connections are stretched, broken, and rejoined through misunderstandings and miscommunications that belie the film’s double entendre title. It’s just too cute a package to stomach. A food-fight happy ending doesn’t help. Whatever popcorn you have in the bottom of your bag you’ll want to toss at the screen as you leave.

Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow are the hectic sisters Mozell: concerned, saintly Eve, a struggling party planner; no-time-for-family magazine magnate Georgia; and loony, long-necked Maddy, a failed soap actress in search of common sense. Egos clash when Eve, already overloaded with home and work burdens, single-handedly tries to reign in their delusional and divorced dad (grumpy old Walter Matthau), a seventy-nine-year-old, grizzled lady-killer who escapes his L.A. hospital bear-trap in search of the lost days of lesser lunacy at the old family homestead. This inspires filial flashbacks by the designated caretaker Eve to a decade earlier, a Christmas memory that heralded father Mozell’s decline and fall, although he had already been separated from his wife and screenwriting collaborator (Cloris Leachman) for ten years. Supposedly the two had success on the screen with some John Wayne pictures—pristine one-sheet posters herald Love Runs Wild and Luck Runs Out—although the sparkle in their true-life relationship had dimmed when their girls were young. Other memories flicker by, putting dad in a progressively worse light, especially when he crashes his five-year-old grandson’s Halloween/birthday party and does his own demented slant on scaring the guests. The movie glosses over the parents’ break-up and you never figure out what really went wrong. When Eve tracks down her estranged mom in the hope (hers and ours) of finding answers, the scene ends without any explanations. Is this any way to write a movie? You bet it ain’t.

In a personality-driven piece like this, the only character you can sympathize with, and then just barely, is the flustered middle sister Eve (Meg Ryan strutting her usual sunny smiles and frantic-inspired tears to steal the majority of screen time), with the other siblings barely surviving the cutting-room floor other than to pop up as disconnected relatives that have better things to do than bond with poor Eve. The over-successful Georgia is the kind of executive who needs forty-eight hours in a day, while the loopy Maddy is more attached to her dog than her clan. It’s detrimental to the legacy of 1996’s hilarious The First Wives’ Club that Hanging Up is being promoted as another cheery three-gal comedy, because the film isn’t a tenth as funny. Make that a twentieth. And the “big” laughs tend to flow from secondary plot lines surrounding the fifth anniversary party Eve is planning for the L.A. Women in Commerce group at the Nixon Library, where Georgia’s speech will be greeted as gospel by doting, middle-class businesswomen, but with gut-busting anger by Eve and Maddy. Heck, if you’re looking for Tricky-Dick humor, go out and rent last year’s delightful Dick 

Keaton, who fashioned the small, delightful, poignant Unstrung Heroes has stumbled in directing a shallow, distracting story based on Delia Ephron’s book. Dora and her sister Nora’s script is in the same dysfunctional barrel as their earlier trudgeworks Michael, Mixed Nuts, and This Is My Life. If you were hoping for another classic along the lines of Nora’s Academy-Award nominated work (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood), you won’t find it in Hanging Up. It’s a pathetic piece, unworthy of even a “chick flick” designation in the hope of bringing in the female audience. Ladies (and gentlemen), beware.

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