It’s never a good sign when a movie strains to put together an engaging opening credit sequence. As scene after scene slips through the cracks of believability, one begins to pay more attention to the titles than to the action occurring behind them. Regrettably, the credits eventually end and you’re left with nothing to distract you from the tragedy that is about to unfold.
Hollywood Written All Over It
R for sex, language
Town & Country has all of the Hollywood ingredients for a major hit: a star-studded cast in roles they were born to play, a story by a respected comic writer (Buck Henry), beautiful locations, casual sex. It’s all there. Why then does this movie fail on so many notes? It’s as if a concert pianist suddenly broke into chopsticks. How could this have happened? Because this is Hollywood, the only place in the world where an eighty million-dollar budget can prop up a movie this bad.
As displaced as its title, Town & Country jumps all over. Set in New York City, unless we’re in Paris for five minutes, the film opens with successful architect Porter Stottard (Warren Beatty) sitting in bed listening to classical music. The fact that the classical music is coming from a very beautiful and very naked cellist (Nastassja Kinski) sitting nearby requires further explaining, he insists, and so we begin the adolescent tale of husbands cheating on wives.
Given the cast, which also includes Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Gary Shandling, this exercise in silliness and irresponsibility can all be excused by the fact that we really like these people (at least the actors playing them are a popular lot).
Porter finds out that his friend Griffen (Shandling) is having an affair. While his friends chastise Griffen’s infidelity, Porter seems to be the good guy. His family obligations and professional success override anything that would lead him astray. Porter is the pillar of stability and happiness, the master of his menage. He would never be unfaithful.
But this is Warren Beatty after all — if anything in the movie does work it’s the casting. And then there’s that earlier scene with the naked cellist, giving one cause to reflect. Obviously, Porter is not the rock of fidelity his friends think he his.
Eventually, Porter’s wife Ellie (Keaton) encourages him to support Griffen’s wife Mona (Hawn) in fixing up an old home, unknowingly pushing him into an intimate encounter (never mind that there’s no motivation for Mona, herself a victim of her husband’s affair, to betray her friend, Ellie).
From there, things develop fairly predictably. Porter finds himself in the middle of protecting his friends and protecting himself, scrambling to relive his youth while struggling with honoring his maturity.
Town & Country is, in a way, the direct antithesis to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. While Kubrick’s film carefully studied the consequences of an imagined infidelity, Town & Country fails to see consequences to any of its real infidelities. The movie therefore, is never very believable.
Another serious flaw with the film is its establishment of locations. The movie slips in and out of more poorly established locations than any Hollywood film I’ve seen in some time. Was that the beach house we were just in or the summer home in the woods? Thankfully, the weather patterns give enough to go on (when we can see snow falling outside the window we know we’re at the ski resort).
It’s a shame that so little works. Somewhere, underneath the detritus of a film, there exists something better. Buck Henry has shown his comic genius before (The Graduate, and To Die For among others) and the story does offer some funny moments. Charlton Heston is amusing as an overly protective father, and there’s a funny gag with Warren Beatty in a polar bear suit. The cast is also top notch and everyone seems very aware of the performances they’re supposed to give. Sadly, none of it’s enough.