BootLeg Betty

BetteBack April 4, 1997: New York Daily News – That Old Feeling

New York Daily News
Byline: Bob Strauss
April 4, 1997

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That Old Feeling” is uncontrolled, inconsiderate lust. Refreshingly so, in this often funny, sometimes stumbling farce. With Bette Midler blasting away at her larger-than-life best and supporting players who aren’t afraid to look like fools, the movie surfs over credulity gaps and structural bumps on waves of raucous laughter.

Leslie Dixon, who wrote Midler’s similarly amusing “Outrageous Fortune,” came up with the ultimate adult child’s nightmare here. Two divorced parents, individually embarrassing but utterly mortifying when they get together and start fighting, ruin your wedding – not with an argument (though they do that, too), but with a suddenly rekindled passion for each other.

Paula Marshall of TV’s “Chicago Hope” plays unlucky bride Molly, who can’t concentrate on her conservative groom, Keith (Jamie Denton), because her folks Lilly and Dan (Midler and “Get Shorty’s” Dennis Farina) are giggling in the room next door. Soon the vain actress and gruff mystery novelist are making other noises. When Lilly’s husband, Alan (David Rasche), and Dan’s wife, Rowena (Gail O’Grady), confront the philanderers, the old flames do what they feel is right: disappear without a trace.

It’s here that Dixon’s script becomes problematic, if no less humorous. Molly hires the cute but annoying paparazzo Joey (Danny Nucci), who’s made it his business to stalk Lilly, to track down the errant pair. While they’re wandering around New York, Keith tries to console Alan (himself a motor-mouthed, super-sensitive, book-writing relationship expert) and Rowena. As this trio’s more venal qualities emerge under pressure, Molly starts rethinking her own, timid romantic choices – and that exerts a lot of drag on the movie’s dirty-minded buoyancy.

All the while, of course, Lilly and Dan are having a ball. When they’re not yelling at each other.

Farina proves a tough, fine foil for Hurricane Bette, and the abandoned spouses stew most entertainingly. But as they swallow up more screen time, Molly and Joey, mostly because of their comparative good sense, grow duller. There is also a sense that Dixon’s script tries a little too hard to have it both ways. Lilly and Dan may be blithely breaking hearts and society’s conventions for the fun of it, but they were married once and, clearly, really still love each other. As risky comic premises go, this one comes close to achieving that elusive state of no-risk.

On another hand, Midler’s diva-ish dynamism may have been less effective in a larger dose. Though her performance is broad and zinger-laced, it rarely slops over into the screechy cartoonishness of some of her earlier, more Bette-centric comedies. Indeed, Midler plays Lilly as elegantly as someone who says, “I’m the happiest I’ve been since it was OK to take drugs,” can probably be portrayed.

After an initial, coincidental misstep – the opening gag was just seen in Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You” – director Carl Reiner proves that he still has some of that old feeling left, too. Though there’s not much of the visual inventiveness here that marked his best films with Steve Martin (“All of Me,” “The Man With Two Brains”), “Feeling’s” camera is always in the right place. And this film’s staging, performances and comic timing are so vastly superior to such recent Reiner comedies as “Fatal Instinct” and “Sibling Rivalry” that, unlike most aspects of “That Old Feeling,” it’s not funny.

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