Rob Reiner appeared in Chicago on Wednesday, June 18, at the Icon Theater on Roosevelt Road for a preview of his new film, “And So It Goes,” a dramedy aimed squarely at Baby Boomers, which stars Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas. The 67-year-old director of “The Bucket List” (another film focused on “mature” characters) was his usual warm, engaging self in the Q&A that followed the film.While the movie may only rate a “C,” Reiner gets an “A+.”
I first met Reiner in 2004 when he came to Davenport, Iowa to campaign for presidential candidate Howard Dean; he gave me a big bear hug that night. When I mentioned it, he gave me another big bear hug. His persona is truly engaging, enthusiastic and down-to-earth. He appeared fit and virile. I wish I could say the same about either Diane Keaton (a vocal opponent of plastic surgery, who became the spokesperson for L’Oreal in 2006) or for Michael Douglas. Both of them looked their respective ages (68 and nearly 70), and, to my untrained eye, Douglas looks sick (He was diagnosed with tongue cancer August 16, 2010.)
I enjoyed Reiner’s Q&A after the film much more than the movie. Who wouldn’t want to hear behind-the-scenes stories from the director of such great films as “Stand By Me,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “A Few Good Men,” Misery,” “The Princess Bride,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “This Is Spinal Tap” and “The American President” (another film starring Douglas)?
Reiner even has a small part in the film, cast as a piano player who accompanies Diane Keaton, (a la Michelle Pfeiffer in 1989’s “The Fabulous Baker Boys.”) When asked how he happened to take on the part of Artie Burns, the accompanist, Reiner said, “I needed an actor who would work for scale, and I found me. Plus, I had always wanted to have a role where I got to wear such a natural-looking toupee.” (A joke, as the rug is repeatedly referenced with comic intent.)
Reiner’s point-of-view on the romance that slowly builds between Diane Keaton’s warm, giving widow and Michael Douglas’ unbearably cranky curmudgeonly widower in the film is, “Essentially, it’s always the same story. My view of the way women and men react with each other. Women are more evolved, more mature. (applause from the crowd) It’s all about grabbing onto life and having fun with it. Live until you’re no more.”
Reiner went on to say that turning 60 brought him to the realization that, “Thanks to medical science, we won’t be able to get out of here!” He pointed to his Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson 2007 hit, “The Bucket List” saying: “I think there’s an audience out there for this film,” meaning the baby boomers, the largest demographic in the nation (which begs the question of whether baby boomers actually leave home to go out to the theater these days).
The script recites truisms like: “Love always comes at a price” and “Sometimes, life outlives love.” Unfortunately, it also had dick jokes and lines like, “I’ve sold houses older than you and in worse condition,” and “What she (Keaton) lacks in curb appeal she makes up for with historic charm. She slept with Elvis.”
Originally, in the script by Mark Andrus (who also wrote “As Good as It Gets,” hence the extremely similar-sounding title), Keaton’s character was a woman who did something with tapestries and weaving, said Reiner. Declaring that pursuit essentially boring, Reiner credited Keaton, herself, with suggesting that Leah be a woman of a certain age embarking on a new career as a singer.
Keaton does all of her own singing in the film. Like Pfeiffer before her, she surprises with a pleasant delivery of old favorites like “The Shadow of Her Smile,” “Both Sides Now” and “Blue Moon.” Reiner commented that he really liked the idea that Keaton’s character was starting a new career as a singer at an advanced age (in the film, Leah says she is 65; in reality, Keaton is 68) because his own mother started a singing career at age 65. (Audiences may remember Reiner’s mother Estelle as the older woman restaurant customer in his film “When Harry Met Sally” who says, “I’ll have what she’s having,” after Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm at the lunch table with Billy Crystal.)
Reiner described the famously eccentric Keaton telling him, “I don’t act. I just am who I am.” Reiner went on to say that there is no division between Keaton’s onscreen and off-screen images. “She just takes the dialogue and makes it come out of her mouth.” (If only she could have taken the dialogue and made it better.) The director also commented that Keaton recently told Jimmy Fallon on the “Tonight” show that Michael Douglas was one of the actors with whom she wished she had shared an onscreen kiss, but the two had never worked together previously.
The two share an onscreen kiss in this film, but there is no real chemistry. Douglas, in fact, as he closes in on seventy (September 25th), is showing his seven decades. He has famously battled Stage IV tongue cancer since August of 2010. In an article that appeared January 11, 2011, medical experts said there was “a high chance of recurrence within 2 to 3 years.”
Of the “carpe diem” theme that resonates throughout the movie, Douglas, after some recently publicized marital troubles with wife of 14 years Catherine Zeta-Jones ( 25 years his junior) told “People” magazine’s Elizabeth Leonard, “When you’ve accomplished a certain amount in your career, you’re not so focused on your ambitions. It makes you appreciate the value of your partner.”
Since part of the theme of the movie deals with Oren Little’s (Michael Douglas’) son, Luke, being a reformed heroin addict and ultimately drawing prison time, one wonders what was going through Douglas’ mind during those scenes. His son Cameron with first wife Deandre Douglas has been in and out of trouble with the law for drugs since 1999 and will have to continue serving a prison sentence until at least 2018. Since much of the film deals with a son, estranged from his father, who must leave his 10-year-old daughter with his irascible father while he goes to prison, that theme may have hit close to home.
Reiner had nothing but praise for Douglas’ professionalism onset, saying the two had both come from a background in series television (Douglas on “Streets of San Francisco;” Reiner as “Meathead” Michael Stivic on “All in the Family”) and were both children of famous men. He remarked of Douglas, ” He’s just got incredible craft. He hits his mark and knows his lines.” (Douglas won his Best Actor Oscar in 1987 portraying Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.” He also won an Oscar in 1975 for producing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and an Emmy last year, portraying Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s “Behind the Candelabra.” Keaton won her Oscar April 3, 1978 at the 50thAcademy Awards portraying Annie Hall in the Woody Allen film of the same name).
Reiner noted, “Of all the movies I’ve made, not one of them could be made today, because the studios just don’t make them.” He singled out “A Few Good Men” as being particularly problematic, because of the politics in the plot. Reiner added, “The studios only make three kinds of movies today: blockbusters, usually from comic books; animated films; and R-rated raunchy comedies.” Reiner didn’t mention the recent glut of horror movies, but he might have. Five previews in a row recently at my local movie house were for horror films.
Other questions for Rob Reiner, post-film, and his responses:
Question 1, about Diane Keaton’s wardrobe. “Did Diane Keaton just wear her own clothes in the film?”
Reiner responded indirectly, saying that, “All the things she wore are the things she knew she could wear.” (One woman in the theater audience commented that a certain dress had been worn previously by Keaton in another film).
Question 2: “Was it difficult to get the money to make this movie?”
Answer 2: “It’s always hard to get money from people. Give me five dollars! See (Reiner laughed), she won’t give it to me!” He noted that it took 4 years to get the financing to make “This Is Spinal Tap.”
Question 3: “What was the purpose of having Oren deliver the baby in the film?”
Answer 3: “It shows Oren’s (Douglas’) character arc. He was turning his back on life (after he was widowed). Then circumstances, a series of events, started affecting him. They’re all designed to make him come back to humanity.” Earlier, Reiner had noted that, after passing 60, he was enjoying life the most he ever had. “And so you go along and live your life. Be in the moment where you are. That’s all you have.” He joked that there was “a 100% demographic” of baby boomers for the film, saying, “60% of them will want to see it, but only 40% of them will have the ability to get to the theater.”
Question 4: “You recently played Max Belfort in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ for Martin Scorsese. How was that?”
Answer 4: “I actually met Mr. Belfort. He’s a very excitable fellow, but shorter than me, and you can see how his son Jordan could be so charming and convincing. When Martin Scorsese calls, you just do it. What is more unbelievable? That Leonardo DeCaprio is a Jew, or that I’m his father? Maybe I’m better-looking that I thought!”
Question 5: “Have you ever worked with Albert Brooks?”
Answer 5: “Yes. I worked with Albert in ‘The Muse.’ I played myself, so I was pretty believable.”
Question 6: “What is on your own personal bucket list?”
Answer 6: “Just doing what I’m doing now. In terms of life fulfillment, I’m doing what I want to do.”
Question 7: “There is a reference to Sammy Davis, Jr. in the movie, and none of the younger people (in the movie) know who he is. How did that come about?”
Answer 7: “That’s just so typical. Recently, I was with my family and we ran into Warren Beatty coming out of a restaurant. Now, I have three children who are 20, 23 and 16 (with second wife Michele Singer, a photographer he married in 1989 after meeting on the set of “When Harry Met Sally.”). They had no idea who Warren Beatty was, although they vaguely had heard of Bonnie & Clyde.”
Question 8: “Will you ever come back to Illinois and Chicago to direct a film?”
Answer 8: “Filmmakers today go where the tax breaks are. It was Michigan for a while-then Louisiana. If you have a small budget, you follow the tax breaks. We shot this in Connecticut because of the tax breaks. If they give you 30% above AND below the line, you go there to make a film.” He added that Chicago is a great place to make a movie and that the college scenes in “When Harry Met Sally” were filmed at the University of Chicago. A representative of the Illinois Production Alliance in the audience said that Illinois does have good tax incentives for filmmaking in the state, and Reiner responded that he’d love to be able to make another film in Chicago.
Question 9: “You were politically active at one time, supporting Howard Dean in the 2004 presidential election and also becoming active in California in 2006. Are you still considering running for office?”
Answer 9: “I sat my family down and polled them on whether I should run or not. I only polled 40%. When you only poll 40% in your own family, you shouldn’t run.”
The theme of “And So It Goes” is (relentlessly) “carpe diem.” As Douglas, himself, told “Uinterview,” “When you’re older, you focus that energy on the people closest to you, on your family.”
My favorite story told Wednesday night involved a scene where Diane Keaton’s character is auditioning for a singing position that her self-proclaimed “manager,” Oren Little (Douglas), has arranged for her. Renowned singer Frankie Valli played the small part of the club owner listening to Keaton sing in a darkened room. “Diane didn’t know that Frankie Valli was sitting in the back listening to her and she got very nervous about it. She didn’t know he was in the movie at all. I told her, ‘Don’t feel bad. I have to play piano in front of Liberace!'” (a reference to Michael Douglas’ Emmy-winning 2013 television role opposite Matt Damon.)
The film opens in July (either July 11th or July 14th, depending on the source).