I got that old feeling all right, a sinking sensation in the pit of the stomach that arrives when I see a movie slipping away.
Too bad because I enjoy Bette Midler and have liked the work of Dennis Farina, the stars of That Old Feeling, a romantic comedy that tries for a slapdash feel. Midler and Farina play battling former spouses who haven’t spoken to each other in 14 years.
That’s all about to change. Because their daughter (Paula Marshall) plans to marry, they’ll have to rub elbows at the wedding. The scene is set for arch comedy, but the movie has something further in mind: It reunites the feuding couple, even though both have remarried. Old passions simmer, and Mom and Pop wind up in a grope session in a parking lot outside the reception.
In the hands of director Carl Reiner, old-fashioned too quickly becomes old hat. In the opening scene, for example, the prospective bride swallows a ring that has been put in her dessert at a fancy restaurant. Didn’t we just see that in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You?
The characters aren’t exactly memorable, either. Midler’s Lilly is an egotistical actress who tells her daughter she should forget marriage. Her rationale: One’s 20s are for “having sex with all the wrong people.”
Midler’s delivery of catty one-liners constitutes the movie’s principal amusement. Farina, who appears in many mob movies, tries to join the spirited fray.
To give this “old-fashioned” comedy a bit of topical gloss, Midler’s second husband (David Rasche) is a sappy psychologist who writes self-help books. Trendy, no? Farina’s second wife (Gail O’Grady) is a salacious interior decorator.
Once the estranged spouses get together, they spend their time hiding from their daughter. She’s afraid they’ll embarrass her new husband (Jamie Denton). He’s running for Congress on a family-values platform. He’s supersensitive about his image and can’t stand the thought of his philandering in-laws’ finding their way into the papers.
In an effort to locate her wayward parents, Marshall’s Molly enlists the help of a photographer (Danny Nucci). He’s spent most of his professional life stalking Lilly and selling photos to the tabloids. Wouldn’t you know it? Daughter and photographer begin to fall in love. She realizes her marriage was a mistake.
The script wavers between bright moments and tired comedy and spends as much time tagging after Marshall and Nucci as it does following Midler and Farina. I didn’t care much about either couple, but the movie raises an unfortunate question: Precisely who goes to a Midler movie to see a Marshall?
Not many, I’d guess.