There are some filmmakers whose sensibility is old-fashioned and anachronistic in a highly pleasing way. Carl Reiner (All of Me , The Jerk ) is surely among the Generals of this cinematic Dad's Army.
The tone of his films is, in truth, an odd mix of '40s classicism (respect for character, plot, theme) with a touch of '60s libertarianism and outrageousness.
In the '90s, Reiner's movies are a world apart: a little corny and middlebrow but, like Blake Edwards' oeuvre, still retaining the power to lightly amuse and touch one's heart. In That Old Feeling (a beautiful title), Reiner and writer Leslie Dixon (Outrageous Fortune, 1987) fashion a lively variation on the comedy of remarriage.
Molly (Paula Marshall) is about to marry strait-laced Keith (Jamie Denton). Her greatest anxiety about getting married is the prospect of her estranged parents, Lilly (Bette Midler) and Dan (Dennis Farina), instantly tearing each other to shreds upon contact.
Instead, something wonderfully unpredictable happens: Lily and Dan fall back in love and take off for a wild holiday tryst, without even telling their current partners.
The rest of the plot combines a madcap pursuit with a bedroom farce. Molly, her wedding date now postponed, becomes attracted to the rough and ready paparazzo Joey (Danny Nucci). Back at home base, Keith falls into a tawdry tangle with Dan's painful wife Rowena (Gail O'Grady). And we wait for the inevitable moment when Lilly and Dan will start yelling recriminations at one another again.
That Old Feeling is a surprisingly open-minded and earthy diversion. Its most heartfelt theme is the need for people – whatever their station or situation – to discover or re-connect with their loving, sensual vitality. The film subverts many clichéd moralisms of the Hollywood love story, and invents some striking variations on familiar genre elements – such as contriving a makeover for a guy, for a change.
Midler has one of her best roles in recent years. She gets to play both the bitchy and plucky sides of her screen persona, thankfully bypassing the saccharine aspect familiar from Beaches (1988). As Lilly, Midler is a dynamo of middle-age glamour, energy, wisdom and resourcefulness.
Alongside her, Farina comes off as a ham, but even his slightly cartoonish character is invested with a salutary dignity.
MORE Reiner: The Man With Two Brains
© Adrian Martin July 1997