Something’s Gotta Give at 20 years old: Charming, progressive, and all-too relevant

Something’s Gotta Give at 20 years old: Charming, progressive, and all-too relevant
  • PublishedApril 15, 2024

Do you ever watch a movie that takes your breath away and you can’t stop talking about it afterwards — breathlessly, of course — to anyone who will listen? For me, it was Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give.

Yes, I’m talking about the 20-year-old film starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. It had so many elements I wasn’t expecting, but loved: it was laugh out loud funny, horny, heartwarming and, best of all, it was ahead of its time.

Something’s Gotta Give tells the story of 63-year-old Harry (Nicholson), a rich playboy known for exclusively dating women under the age of 30. Harry’s routine is challenged by his latest fling’s mother, 50-something divorced playwright Erica (Keaton).

Harry and Erica are forced together when he recovers from a heart attack in her Hamptons beach house — on orders from the dreamy local doctor, played to perfection by Keanu Reeves.

Diane Keaton sits with her arms cross on a chair at a desk in a brightly lit home.
Diane Keaton helped cement Nancy Meyers’ iconic ‘coastal grandma’ chic in her role as Erica.(Supplied: Warner Bros)

Erica initially thinks Harry is a “chauvinist” and “letch”, while Harry dubs Erica a “major piece of work” and “beyond uptight”.

This is, of course, the start of an inevitable enemy to lovers arc. They eventually realise they’re soulmates, challenging each other out of their comfort zones, opening their minds and hearts to see the world in a different way. (I’d say this is a spoiler, but the film is two decades old!)

Neurotic Erica learns to relinquish control and cavalier Harry learns to commit; he even goes on a journey of self-discovery where he seeks closure with every single ex-lover. Harry and Erica getting to know, loath, then love each other, is a touching and entertaining trip.

So, why should we care about a formulaic rom-com from 20 years ago?

The highlight of this film comes much earlier than the predictable ending, when Harry and Erica’s daughter Marin sit down for an awkward dinner with Erica and her women’s studies professor sister, Zoe (Frances McDormand).

After some obligatory small talk, the group discovers Harry has never been married (he “escaped the noose”, in his own words), and he’s actually a famous bachelor who has been profiled in the New York Times — a piece aptly titled The Escape Artist.

Alongside the pasta and white wine, Zoe then delivers this blistering speech:

“[Harry], you’ve been around the block a few times. 63. Never married which, as we know, if you were a woman, would be a curse. You’d be an old maid, a spinster. So instead of pitying you, they write an article about you. Celebrate your never marrying. You’re elusive and ungettable, a real catch.

Then, there’s my gorgeous sister here. She is so accomplished. She’s over 50, divorced, and she sits in night after night because available guys her age want something … somebody that looks like Marin.

The over-50 dating scene is geared towards men leaving older women out. As a result, the women become more productive and, therefore, more interesting. Which makes them even less desirable because, as we all know, men — especially older men — are threatened and deathly afraid of productive, interesting women.

Single older women as a demographic are about as fucked a group as can ever exist.”

It was this scene, just 13 minutes in, that made me sit up and pay attention. What struck me is how accurate and relevant this speech still is, two decades after it was performed.

Diane Keaton sobbing at a laptop in bed.
Diane Keaton’s epic crying sequence stands out as one of the film’s most memorable moments, alongside McDormand’s famous speech.(Supplied: Warner Bros)

It’s still happening

After all these years, women in films are still giving exasperated monologues about the double standards of gender (does America Ferrera’s speech in Barbie ring a bell?)

When I go on social media I see Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino becoming fathers again in their 80s, Buzzfeed’s alarming listicles about age gaps between on-screen love interests (Humphrey Bogart was 30 years older than Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina!) and articles with headlines like “Katharine McPhee (39) Has an ‘Iconic’ Response to Critics of Her and Husband David Foster’s (74) Relationship”. Let’s not even get started on Leonardo DiCaprio’s infamous relationship statistics.

Research estimates about 8 per cent of all married heterosexual couples across Western countries have a large age gap (10 years or more); only one per cent of those relationships feature an older woman with a younger man.

In the real world and on screen, we are statistically more likely to see men with “much younger” women than we are to see women with “much younger” men.

Keanu Reeves has his arm around Diane Keaton in a scene from Something's Gotta Give.
It was unusual and refreshing to see Keanu Reeves’ much younger dreamy doctor character ask Diane Keaton’s Erica out.(Supplied: Warner Bros)

Older women’s stories are important, but often invisible

Zoe’s speech is a beacon in a film that celebrates older women.

Nancy Meyers knows how to make beloved films, particularly for women and girls — from The Holiday to The Parent Trap.

Her undeniable influence on film has recently been recognised by a whole new generation, too, with the “Nancy Meyers kitchen” entering the lexicon, and TikTok celebrating the “coastal grandma” look and lifestyle of her characters.

Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton in a softly lit all-white Hamptons-style kitchen.
The ‘Nancy Meyers kitchen’ seen here in Something’s Gotta Give has become part of the director’s signature aesthetic. (Supplied: Warner Bros)

While some of the lenses we apply to films today don’t translate seamlessly to this film, Something’s Gotta Give is still worth a watch – whether it’s your first or your 10th time!

It’s empowering to see the leading lady be successful, independent, desirable, desiring, and over 50. Erica opens herself up to new experiences and, in her own words, has the time of her life.

Films like this are significant in an industry where older women are still routinely cast aside, their stories ignored.

But if you only come for one thing, come for Frances McDormand ripping into Jack Nicholson with a speech that will make you want to punch the air.

This movie may be 20 years old, but its messages are timeless and ones we should still be exploring, both on and off the screen.


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