The main thing that distinguishes And So It Goes from any number of recent retirement-age comedies—like Last Vegas or The Big Wedding—is that it happens to be directed by Rob Reiner, a Hollywood veteran with a good grasp of what does and doesn’t work on-screen, especially when it comes to comedy. Knowing a good take from a bad one might not sound like much of a skill set, but, in a genre as dire as this, it goes a long way.
In other words, And So It Goes is a mediocre movie, starring two great actors who’ve certainly done worse, that benefits from baseline competence and lowered expectations. Michael Douglas stars as Oren Little, a standard-issue Scrooge-type curmudgeon who wears seersucker suits, drives a vintage drophead coupe, and spends his evenings being a nuisance to the tenants of his fourplex, Little Shangri-La. Oren has all the traits of the archetypal (read: clichéd) boomer crank: a distrust for decades-old digital technology; oldies-radio tastes (“Ramblin’ Man,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” and the Judy Collins version of “Both Sides Now” all blare from his Mercedes); and a sense of lost purpose, which his fat bank account can’t help assuage.
Movies—from The Graduate to The Big Chill to Reiner’s own When Harry Met Sally…—shaped the cultural identity of the post-WWII baby boom, creating and perpetuating the myth of a generation unified by shared experiences and tastes, yearning for self-determination. Contemporary boomer movies more often than not try to continue this narrative, setting their protagonists up against overprotective children (good for a cheap laugh) and social norms.
In that sense, And So It Goes—written by Mark Andrus (As Good As It Gets)—occasionally feels like a breath of fresh air. Oren and his neighbor, Leah (Diane Keaton), are sixtysomethings who, for lack of a better term, live and behave like grown-ups. They often feel out of touch with younger people, but don’t feel smothered by them.
As the Vonnegut-quoting title suggests, the real subject here is death—though the film is less about personal mortality than grieving. Oren and Leah are both widowed, an experience which has made Oren harsh and brittle, and turned Leah into a softy who bawls at the mention of anything that might remind her of her late husband. It’s not what you’d call an elegant dichotomy, and it doesn’t resolve very elegantly either, with Oren and Leah drifting toward romance—and learning to let go of their personal baggage—with the help of Oren’s moppet granddaughter, Sarah (Sterling Jerins), who has been dropped off on their shared doorstep more or less unannounced.
And So It Goes’ major flaw is common to bigger-budgeted movies that try to work in a more or less realistic mode: the squirming impulse to meet every dramatic problem with an overblown solution. Oren can’t merely become nicer to his pregnant tenant; he must single-handedly deliver her baby. It’s not enough for him to improve his relationship with his estranged son, Luke (Scott Shepherd), an ex-junkie-turned-stockbroker who has been convicted for a Securities And Exchange Commission violation; he must get him out of prison. Oren can’t simply offer to help Leah with her lounge-singing career; he must secure her a plum gig. (Keaton’s limited singing ability doesn’t make this development any more believable.) It’s not enough to make things better than they were; they have to be made better than they’ve ever been. This effectively robs the movie of meaningful tension. Everything that might make And So It Goes into an effective comedy or drama gets sacrificed at the altar of the fleeting feel-good high.