A Diane Keaton film
Starring Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow and Diane Keaton
Three sisters, three cell phones, one world of grief. This is the comedic recipe the Ephron sisters (Delia & Nora) have prepared in their screenplay, and director Diane Keaton heats the mixture over the steady flame of three bright talents: Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow, and Keaton herself. They make a believable trio of siblings; each is naturally funny and has superb timing. In the film's first (and best) third, the three trade phone calls, most of the day, every day, with the furious unstoppability of a clown troupe jumping through trap doors. They swap gossip about their lives and deliver catty opinions about whichever sister is out of earshot. Most tellingly, they either face or flee from the fact that their once-brilliant writer father (Walter Matthau) is not only losing his wits, but also dying. The satiric point is immediate and well taken: We live in a world overloaded with contact but short on true connection.
The middle sister, played by Meg Ryan, feels this burden most painfully: Of the three, she's the one who spends the most time with their father; she mothers him, even tries to reunite him with her estranged mother (Cloris Leachman, in a well-chilled cameo). She is hopelessly overwhelmed trying to balance her life as a mother, daughter, and working professional; early on, she even gets into a car wreck while putting Keaton on hold to take a call from Kudrow. Her sisters are oblivious to her predicament and for much of the film they are marvels of requited self-love. Keaton is a stylish fashion editor who runs a magazine named for herself and is blindly adored by her father despite her hands-off approach. Kudrow is a soap star who thinks nothing of adopting a big sloppy hound on a whim and abandoning him to Ryan's care. The combined wits of Kudrow, the Ephrons, and Keaton (as both actress and director) fuse wonderfully for a long while these women plainly understand the greed and rivalries of sisterhood from the inside out, and create monsters who are both maddening and funny.
Ryan, for her part, owns the center of the film by grace of her rare power as a reactor: She is the greatest natural clown and silent-commentator this side of Lucille Ball, and the movie exploits her gifts to a fare-thee-well. Matthau is mostly called upon to be cute and rascally. (What else is new?) Midway through the film, however, he drives a wrenching flashback in which the drunken father crashes his grandson's birthday party. Keaton and the Ephrons are not afraid to confront the deeper torments of having a parent, or of being one, and if the final sequence of the film had been as steadfastly truthful as this painful moment, they might've had something worth cherishing. Alas, once there's a blistering confrontation between the sisters, all parties trade high-fives and go for a cheap and easy affirmation. Affirmation is a welcome thing when it's genuine. When it's not, the cheat makes you look back on the whole with suspicion.