BootLeg Betty

BetteBack April 4, 1997: Roger Ebert – That Old Feeling

The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
April 4, 1997 | ROGER EBERT

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Remember those little Scotty dogs kids used to play with? They were
glued to magnets. If you pointed them one way, they jumped toward each
other, and if you pointed them the opposite way, they jumped apart. Carl
Reiner’s “That Old Feeling” is an entire movie based on the dance of the
Scotty dogs, and the characters in it act as mechanically as if they had
big magnets strapped to their thighs.

The premise: A senator’s son (Jamie Denton) gets engaged to the
daughter (Paula Marshall) of a movie star and a journalist. He wants a
big marriage. Her parents have been divorced for 15 years and both have
remarried. He insists on inviting everyone. She warns against it: “My
parents hate each other with a nuclear capacity.”

She is right. In no time at all her parents (Bette Midler and
Dennis Farina) are insulting each other on the dance floor (“I could
have had the entire rock-and-roll hall of fame!” Midler shouts. “I
turned down a Beatle for you.”). This is, of course, painful to their
current spouses: Farina’s wife (Gail O’Grady) and Midler’s husband
(David Rasche). But not nearly as disturbing as when the fighting couple
suddenly fall into each other’s arms.

OK. So now we have Farina and Midler fighting and loving and
fighting and loving. The wheezy screenplay by Leslie Dixon now works out
the other combinations with almost mathematical precision. First it must
be established that the young groom is a prig. Then the plot must
contrive to lock the bride into a hotel room with a paparazzo (Danny
Nucci) who has been following her movie-star mother. Then Farina’s wife
must get drunk with the groom, with predictable consequences.

And so on. There is not a moment that is believable, but of course
the movie is not intended as realism. It is intended as comedy. So
consider this “funny” scene: Marshall and Nucci, locked in the hotel
room, try to attract attention by dropping fruit from a balcony. Cops
see them, but nod indulgently and walk on. So the two continue to drop
fruit. End of scene, with a whole lot of fruit on the sidewalk.

What’s in slow motion here is the progress of the plot. Every
development is exhausting because we have arrived at it long, long
before the characters. There are only two saving graces. One is that
Midler sings “Somewhere Along the Way” to Farina in a piano bar, very
nicely. The other is that Rasche has some funny dialogue. He is a
self-help counselor with smarmy little slogans at his command: “It is
important to dialogue and to language each other,” he says, and he
recommends “emotional valet parking” and says to Farina’s wife: “Is any
part of your body original? You are so at odds with your shadow self.”

I liked his dialogue because it was smart and satirical. I liked the
two young actors — Denton and Marshall — because they were fresh and
appealing. Hell, I liked Farina and Midler, too. I liked everyone:
O’Grady, Nucci …make a list. They all seemed way too nice to have done
anything to deserve this screenplay.

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