Published May 01, 2001The whole idea behind the new film "Town and Country" seems oddly old-fashioned, more at home in a bygone era of romantic comedy, when mining the comedic potential of gender differences and marital infidelity in middle-aged couples was relatively uncharted territory. There are a few contemporary twists thrown into the mix here to show how complicated modern life is, but at its core, this is a story about an aging married man's mid-life crisis in which he finds himself sleeping with many women who are not his wife, most of whom are half his age. This is hardly a new concept in popular culture, and with the memory of films like "American Beauty," which put forth a far deeper analysis and understanding of this sort of behaviour, still fresh in the mind, "Town and Country" comes across like a clumsy dinosaur.
The film follows two wealthy couples who are the oldest and dearest of friends as their marriages simultaneously begin to crumble and they are caught up in a wacky web of deceit and betrayal. Porter and Ellie Stoddard (Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton) first watch and console their friends Griffin and Mona (Gary Shandling and Goldie Hawn) after Mona discovers Griffin's infidelity and initiates divorce proceedings. Very quickly though, Porter and Ellie's seemingly rock-solid 25 year marriage follows suit as Porter embarks on a journey of self-discovery by way of meaningless sexual encounters.
The quick paced dialogue and editing, the New York setting, and the presence of Diane Keaton give the film a Woody Allen-ish feel, but these characters are less intellectual or interesting than their Allen counterparts. Warren Beatty gives a performance that is so consistently detached, with a bemused smirk ever-present on his face, that it is impossible to actually believe or care about his character's transformation from perfect husband to raging philanderer and back again. The supporting cast of women that he encounters on his journey (Nattassja Kinski, Jenna Elfman, and Andie "how on earth do you still get cast in major motion pictures" MacDowell) are mainly one dimensional props with wacky personalities there for comic relief whose instant attraction to and pursuit of the aging Porter is unbelievable at best. There are a few funny moments in the film, but it also has a surprising share of vaguely racist and sexist humour that is outmoded and decidedly unfunny.
"Town and Country" has been a long time in the making. After an earlier print didn't test well with female audiences, who found Beatty's role as seducer more than a little hard to swallow, the cast and crew apparently returned to set in an effort to make Porter's journey more believable and sympathetic. This attempt was unsuccessful, and while they were in there trying to craft the appearance of a kindlier, gentler mid-life crisis, I suspect that they managed to do away with any of substance that the original script has to offer. The end result is a safe romp through well trodden territory, with plenty of empty wackiness but ultimately devoid of any kind of smart or sincere commentary.