From fathers and daughters to fathers and sons—it seems the baby boomers have advanced from working out their patriarchal issues as rebellious youths to dealing with aging dads and familial patterns with their own sons. Whereas most generations, by the time they hit their 50s, manage to get over it, the boomers, of course, cannot be told to get over anything; they just keep recontextualizing their neuroses. But do they have to do it the same way every time? I mean, at this point, can’t they watch endless reams of film about learning to accept their parents’ foibles and telling their kids they love them instead of making films that posit this journey as a stunning revelation?
Diamonds is a here-we-go-again rummage sale of intergenerational cliches: cantankerous granddad Harry, a former welterweight boxing champ, recent stroke victim, and mournful widower (Kirk Douglas—no one who cherishes the memory of The Vikings should get near this performance); exasperated prig Lance (Dan Aykroyd—no one should get near this performance), the divorced boomer everyman who’s rejected Dad’s feisty ways for life as a (totally unconvincing) writer; and Lance’s kid Michael (Corbin Allred), a teenage cutie who thinks Lance isn’t a real man and that Grandpa’s feisty senility is cool. The three of them leave Canada for a wacky road trip to Reno, where, Harry insists, he once stashed a sackful of diamonds in a gangster’s kitchen wall. The stroke has left the old man with a tendency to ramble; the family wonders if he’s crazy. Or is he…crazy like a fox?
It would probably be easier to come up with a Mad Libs-style grid in which you can insert your own intergenerational-road-trip cliches. But, for the record, here are the specifics: a red convertible, a Granddad-takes-the-wheel scene, an Elvis subtheme, a visit to a whorehouse (run by Lauren Bacall), a lucky quarter in the slot machine, one last hard punch from the ex-pugilist, an embarrassing public sex rant (Granddad again), a vase-shatters-accusatory-mirror moment, and the rooftop bonding scene where Dad admits to Son that he’s created the same dynamic between them that he resents between his own father and himself.
Diamonds isn’t unwatchable, just amateurish and well-meaning. John Mallory Asher, who’s directed some little films you’ve never heard of, directs the hoary old story with a touching earnestness—he’s just discovered this stuff, and it’s really therapeutic. Therapy abounds in every moment, especially the long whorehouse scene, in which each male bonds with his rented lady; God forbid they should have a good time without learning something valuable about humanity. The only surprise the script offers is an untwist: Grandpa doesn’t die at the end. That’s about the best thing to be said about this sincere little valentine to the sensitive guy in us all.
Schlockslingers of prefeminist tripe Delia and Nora Ephron put their pretty little heads together but still don’t manage to outthink your average brontosaurus—he of the walnut-size brain—for a chick flick so repellent it would have Phyllis Schlafly burning her bra and sending Tequizas to k.d. lang’s table. As directed by oh-so-stable Diane Keaton, Hanging Up is an exercise in infantile egotism and Hollywood entitlement that no one in any audience will be able to empathize with.
Whereas Jane Smiley tinkered with Shakespeare’s great familial tragedy by retelling King Lear from the put-upon older daughter’s point of view in A Thousand Acres, and Paul Mazursky’s Harry & Tonto observed the effect of the serpent’s tooth by positing Dad’s reactions, the ladies Ephron take a bold step in realizing King Lear’s potential for zany.
Walter Matthau plays the dying king, here a screenwriting mogul, as if vaudeville never went away—Lou Mozell is a frisky old codger who pinches the nurses and growls that he “likes ’em sassy.” Meg Ryan is Cordelia recast as Evie Marks, a Los Angeles party planner who jumps at Dad’s beck and call despite her exasperation with how unfun he is on the deathbed, and lets her memories of his disruptive drinking justify her reluctance to care for him. On vacation or location, Maddy (Lisa Kudrow), a self-centered actress, is working too hard to “find her moment” and obsess over her dilapidated dog to bother with Dad. And Georgia (Keaton, holding back the jowls through sheer force of will and a little Vaseline on the lens) is on the go as a high-powered women’s magazine magnate along the lines of Grace Mirabella—her magazine is called Georgia.
Reflecting the title, the film is mostly shots of the actresses speaking into cell phones—a scintillating visual trope, as you can imagine; in truly electrifying moments, they hang up and sigh. The three are so exquisitely coiffed, cosmeticized, and robed they look like those actresses of silent-film melodramas Isaac Mizrahi was laughing about in Unzipped, the ones who are discovered buried in the snow, half-alive, with lip liner and bed jacket unscathed. The entrenchment of otherworldly Hollywood values and milieu is the film’s most alienating aspect—everyone is tremendously rich and feels a breathtaking sense of entitlement. When Evie rams her SUV into a nice doctor’s Mercedes (she’s on the phone), she babbles that, this being her third crash of the year, there must be a way they can settle up without dealing with her insurance company. The nice doctor tells her to call his mother, a comforting bosom of ethnic mother love—they’re Iranian—and the lady lets Evie off the hook; she’s just too cute to have to take responsibility for herself.
Hanging Up’s main premise is that the rich, clumsy, incompetent, and ditsy should be forgiven everything so long as they’re cute and well-intentioned. Except for Dad, who’s inconvenient. (Hateful stand-by-your-ethnicity note: Unless I’m mistaken, all the girls seem to have rejected “Mozell” for slicker, less Jewy names.) The daughters are so stupid and helpless and so patently movie-stars-playing-dress-up that their every move is maddening. Why does it take Evie and Maddy 10 minutes to get halfway through one chocolate cherry each? Their reluctance to finish a single piece of non-Zone foodstuff is so distracting that they might as well be speaking Urdu throughout the entire scene. Why do the three sunglass-sporting bimbos descend on Dad’s house through the back yard and spend five minutes anxiously shouting, “Daddy?” around the pool? Maybe’s he’s in the freaking house, you ninnies!
Even in the annals of girl movies, the weaker sex has never sunk so low. (Even Keaton hadn’t sunk this low, but then again, she didn’t direct The Lemon Sisters as well as co-star in it.) After Lou dies, the girls are free to grow up clear of his looming shadow—a liberty they demonstrate by having a wacky flour fight (tee-hee) and whining only a little about the cost of dry-cleaning a Donna Karan original. In what they deem a terribly personal screenplay, the Ephrons strive to make a point. And that point is: Rich, glamorous, spoiled Hollywood princesses have problems, too, only they don’t deserve them the way you and I do. CP