Films, TV, and Theatre


That Old Feeling (1997)

Romantic comedy starring Bette Midler and Dennis Farina. Twelve years after their bitter divorce, a couple fall in love all over again at their daughter's wedding.

Stars: Bette Midler, Dennis Farina, Paula Marshall, Danny Nucci
Director: Carl Reiner

TV Guide

A rather dark ode to the joys of infidelity, this coarse comedy of remarriage fails to capture the sophisticated, madcap spirit of classic screwball comedies. Drama queen Lily (Bette Midler) and mystery novelist Dan (Dennis Farina), acrimoniously divorced for 14 years, are reunited at the swank wedding of their sensible, rather prissy daughter (Paula Marshall) and an uptight junior politico (Jamie Denton). The battling exes make an embarrassing scene at the reception, then recklessly abandon their long-suffering spouses for a heedless, passionate fling that throws everyone else's love life into frantic disorder. The result isn't without amusing moments, but too much time is given over to ham-fisted social satire and shrill -- but not particularly clever -- cattiness, which still suits Midler far better than the stilted poshness she's occasionally called upon to affect. Writer Leslie Dixon, a longtime purveyor of frenetic, graceless, modern-day farces (including the hugely successful MRS. DOUBTFIRE, a wacky paean to paternal love driven by the notion that there is nothing like a dad, even if he's dressed like a frumpy dame) sets up a perfectly workable clash of cultures -- free-spirited bohemians vs. repressed WASPs -- but the details ring false. Why are '70s reprobates like Lily and Dan billing and cooing to Gershwin and Porter? Let's face it -- their song would more likely be "Me and Bobby McGee." Maitland McDonagh

Mark Lasswell, People Magazine

It's time to declare Bette Midler a national treasure. That toddling walk, that nasty talk and that braying laugh all add up to one divine, if diminutive, comic package. And one that is adroitly packaged in That Old Feeling, a contrived fluffball of a comedy about ex-spouses (Midler, playing a movie actress, and Farina, a novelist) who--after having not seen each other for 14 years and despite having remarried--indulge in a serious bout of middle-aged lust upon reuniting at their daughter's wedding.It's clear from the start that pretty much everyone onscreen--the ditched spouses, the daughter, her new husband--is going to eventually change partners and prance. Old Feeling, directed by Carl Reiner from a script by Leslie Dixon (who also wrote 1987's Outrageous Fortune for Midler), is hackneyed stuff, but the movie supplies a good deal of broad fun as it heads down its precharted road. Besides the marvelous Midler, the burly Farina (Get Shorty) holds his own as a leading man, Gail O'Grady (NYPD Blue) adds welcome vinegar as Farina's conniving second wife, and David Rasche (Sledge Hammer!) is a psychobabbling hoot as Midler's marriage-counselor husband.

Jack Garner, Democrat and Chronicle

After 14 years, Molly had gotten used to having divorced parents who hated each; as she put it, their enmity had "a nuclear capacity."So imagine her shock when Mom and Dad (Bette Midler and Dennis Farina)
rekindle That Old Feeling when they're thrown together at their daughter'swedding.

You'd think Molly would be happy, but she long ago had realized they were a volatile combination, and had fully accepted each parent's current second marriage.

The two middle-aged former spouses are shocked to be locked in an illicit embrace, rocking a car in the parking lot at their daughter's reception. But Molly knows that such an encounter will really rock the boat.

That's the screwball premise of the new Carl Reiner film, starring Bette Midler, who is in top form, and Dennis Farina, the veteran cop-and-crimecharacter actor who displays a surprising flair for romantic comedy.

Set in the New York City of the 1990s, That Old Feeling is solidly in the tradition of the nutty Hollywood romantic comedies of the 1940s. And as much as I enjoyed what Reiner did with the material, I can only imagine what the venerated master of the form -- Preston Sturges -- would have done with it.

Midler plays Lilly, a popular movie star who is obsessed with maintaining her figure, and not just because she's on the screen. She has to look good so she can thumb her nose at her ex-husband's trophy wife, the surgically sculpted Rowena (Gail O'Grady).

Farina is Dan, a mystery novelist who seems to kill off a "fictional" actress in each of his books. And he has nothing but disdain for Lilly's second husband, a self-improvement writer and analyst (David Rasche) who incessantly spouts touchy-feely psychobabble.

And though Dan and Lilly have been divorced for 14 years, they can't be anywhere near each other without exploding into messy fights. Meanwhile, aggressive paparazzo Joey (Danny Nucci) is usually ready to jump out of the bushes with his camera, aiming to put Lilly on the cover of the tabloids.

The former husband and wife, their current spouses, the tabloid photographer, and the wary new bride and groom -- all are thrown together at the wedding.

It also doesn't help that Molly's intended, Keith (Jamie Denton). is the wealthy scion of a famous conservative political family, and is planning a run of his own for Congress. All he needs at his reception are throw-the-china fights and high-profile affairs.

Reiner, the 74-year-old veteran director of classic TV and several Steve Martin films, keeps all the balls in the air as he juggles the script's various romantic elements. And he gives Midler and Farina free rein to
energize the material with flashy and funny performances.

After watching Midler strain at the bit to get her moments in last year's The First Wives Club, it's great to see the brassy comedienne go all out, and yet never lose sight of the film's romantic mood. She even performs a lovely ballad, Somewhere, Along the Way, during the reunion with her ex-husband. Farina, meanwhile, escapes his tough-guy typecasting, and is obviously relishing the change to play at flirtation and humor.

Paula Marshall and the other supporting players also are amusing and attractive, and the film's technical qualities are first rate, especially the appropriately romantic background score that includes songs by Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.

With just a little more imagination and a more intense pace, That Old Feeling could have been truly special. As is, it's still a good bet. And good Bette.

Leonard Klady, Variety

A throwback to romantic comedies of a bygone era, "That Old Feeling" rekindles some fond memories of the sparks ignited between vintage feuding screen couples. But it also reminds us that current demands call for films to be less corny and schematic, more heartfelt and better focused. Propelled by a strong cast, the film is lightly amusing and should do OK numbers prior to an extended life on cassette and cable.

The picture essentially mines a one-joke premise. Molly (Paula Marshall) is about to marry the very straight-laced Keith (Jamie Denton), a rising conservative politico. As her wedding day approaches, her anxiety grows at the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between her long-divorced parents, actress Lilly (Bette Midler) and novelist Dan (Dennis Farina). Despite new marriages and a 14-year separation, Molly is convinced age has not mellowed either of her demonstrative folks.

So, the groundwork for a ferocious confrontation is set. The parents initially present a civil front at the ceremony, exchanging niceties and acting very adult. But they simply can't contain themselves. One catty remark leads to a snipe, and snowballs into a deafening cacophony of verbal abuse that gets them ousted from the celebration.

Taking it to the parking lot, the terrible twosome find that the heat of anger isn't that far removed from smoldering passion. Long-dormant though nonetheless raging hormones take over, and caution, social convention, lingerie and family are tossed to the wind.

In another era, this scenario would simmer and bubble and resolve similarly, if chastely, in the final dissolve. The accelerated modern twist poses more than a few problems for Leslie Dixon's story --- chiefly, how to proceed once the ice is broken.

What evolves are a series of awkward missteps that never quite get back to solid ground. Lilly and Dan return to the event shaken, stirred and mellowed. Just as they can't control their tempers, their resolve to accept the incident as a freak occurrence is doomed to failure in the face of unbridled emotions. So, before their secret hits the first edition, the two decide to bolt for one last madcap spree.

Molly and Keith are left to manage the jilted spouses ---Rowena (Gail O'Grady) and Alan (David Rasche). Molly is aghast, but Keith is livid, sensing the incident will result in a political time bomb set to explode come election time. He bundles up the abandoned pair and caches them away, sending out his new wife to retrieve the errant adults and bring them back to their senses.

The yarn truly goes out of control when Molly enlists Joey (Danny Nucci), the tabloid photographer who's stalked her mother for years, to do what he does best --- ferret out Lilly in the big city. From that point, "That Old Feeling" suffers from divided loyalties. The saga of the couple on the run fades into the background as Molly's pursuit brings her face to face with her own indecision about marriage and a growing attraction to the guileless shutterbug known as "the cockroach."

The script tries valiantly to bring some logic and closure to the tale. But neither neatness nor director Carl Reiner's penchant for pastiche and pratfalls can resolve the fragmented structure of the piece. Otherwise, it's a slick piece of goods, handsomely, though unexceptionally, mounted.

Much of the burden must be borne by the performers. Both Midler and Farina arrive with well-documented screen personae that snugly embrace their outsize characters here. There is definite chemistry between them, and, given their screen alternatives, one can well appreciate the reasons behind a second elopement.

There are even greater challenges for Marshall and Nucci, cast in basically unsympathetic roles. Both adroitly transcend their characters' grating natures and win us over. Denton is also effective in a largely underwritten part.

As with so many romantic comedies, "That Old Feeling" ends with the lovers overcoming impossible odds and going off into the sunset together. In this instance, however, one's left with a sinking feeling about the relationship.

Hollywood Reporter

"That Old Feeling" is an appropriate title for a romantic comedy that plays like an Americanized filmed version of a '60s British stage farce.

Fortunately, with Bette Midler showing the way, this warmed-over concoction of "Father of the Bride," "The First Wives Club" and Noel Coward's "Private Lives" has its share of pleasurable moments. Both Midler and Dennis Farina are terrific. The problem is, while the trailers would have you believe otherwise, their screen time together accounts for maybe half of the picture, and in those scenes where the pair are nowhere to be found, the unseasoned supporting cast struggles in their wake.

While the Carl Reiner-directed result is uneven, Midler's revitalized movie career should ensure "That Old Feeling" generates a respectable boxoffice sensation, but Universal shouldn't count on "First Wives" deja vu.

Reuniting with "Outrageous Fortune" scripter Leslie Dixon, Midler plays the part of Lilly, a paparazzi-stalked movie star who is destined to make a scene at her daughter Molly's (Paula Marshall) wedding to the ultraconservative Keith (Jamie Denton), given that her long-estranged but not-forgiven husband, Dan (Farina) will also be attending.

With their new mates in tow (David Rasche and Gail O'Grady), Lilly and Dan don't disappoint with a knock-down, take-no-prisoners rumble that culminates in -- surprise -- renewed pangs of passion. Throwing decorum to the wind, they immediately embark on a hotblooded affair, leaving a trail of bewildered loved ones chasing after them.

Midler is in fine form both professionally and physically. In contrast to the frumpy housewife she played in her previous outing, she makes one sexy 51-year-old. She handily lights up the screen whether hurling those now-trademark zingers or delivering a lovely rendition of that old chestnut, "Somewhere Along the Way."

Farina, meanwhile, has turned into a very capable light comic actor as evidenced in "Get Shorty." Here he more than holds his own against the unbeatable Bette.

The rest of the cast doesn't fare quite as well. Required to serve as the true central characters of Leslie Dixon's lopsided script, Marshall (a regular on "Chicago Sons") and Danny Nucci as a baby Joe Pesci paparazzo with a heart of gold (yeah, right!) just don't have the comic chops to fill the many voids left when Midler and Farina aren't in the picture.

While not vintage Reiner, this filmed-in-Toronto enterprise nevertheless bears several comedic marks of the master.

Christine James, Box Office Magazine

Thankfully not the "First Wives Club" redux one might expect, "That Old Feeling" instead celebrates the firepower of a reignited old flame. Actress Lilly (Bette Midler) and author Dan (Dennis Farina) are a bitterly divorced couple who haven't seen each other for years. The wedding of their daughter Molly (Paula Marshall) forces a reunion; a cliched shouting-match-turns-to-passionate-groping scene ensues, capped with a tryst in a car. That this takes place within the first few minutes of the film is a relief; there is always the danger in sexual-tension comedies that this trite inevitability is the central action to which all else builds. Here, fortunately, that's merely the jumping-off point.

From there, the newly friendly Lilly and Dan agree to part ways, as both have long been remarried and are feeling somewhat guilty about their adulterous auto encounter. But they soon realize "that old feeling" is still there and end up in bed again, with silly puppy-love smiles across their faces. The spurned spouses soon discover the infidelities, but before a confrontation can take place the paramours escape to be alone.

What follows is a hit-and-miss combination of humorous hijinks and predictable romantic entanglements. It seems that Lilly, Dan and Molly have all married cartoonishly unlikable spouses, which conveniently frees them for other pursuits. Lilly and Dan push their (annoyingly) uptight daughter towards a rough-around-the-edges but good-hearted paparazzo (Danny Nucci), who helps take some of the starch out of Molly's collar. Meanwhile, to make the adultery acceptable, the cuckolded counterparts engage in increasingly preposterous behavior. It's all goofy, but adequately amusing, thanks mostly to scenery-chewer Midler.