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Drive Past This 'Town'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2001


    'Town and Country' Gary Shandling and Warren Beatty in "Town & Country." (New Line)
There's a telling scene in "Town & Country," the anemic new (actually it's more like two years old, but who's counting?) sex farce from director Peter "Funny Bones" Chelsom. In it, Porter and Ellie Stoddard, an upscale architect and his designer wife played by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton, are discussing their 25-year marriage (okay, a number of scenes fit that description in this all-too-talky comedy). Anyway, in the background, architect Philip Johnson can be glimpsed on TV being interviewed by Charlie Rose, where, according to Ellie, he's expounding on his philosophy that architecture, or all art for that matter, should be a mixture of the strange and the familiar.

I think the comment is also supposed to allude to sex (there are lots of double entendres here), but it might just as easily apply to the film.The problem is: There's too much familiar and not enough strange.

Put another way, there's too much "town" and not enough "country." In town (Manhattan, where else?), Porter, Ellie and best friends Griffin and Mona (Garry Shandling and Goldie Hawn) are fine, upstanding couples who seem to have great marriages, or at least marriages that work (how boring!). In the country, however (meaning one of the numerous homes they unwind in outside the city), all hell breaks loose.

First, Griffin has an affair – with a red-headed male transvestite, no less. Then Porter, feeling left out, has a one- or two-night-stand with a comely cellist (Nastassja Kinski). Then Mona finds out about Griffin and winds up in the sack with Porter by way of consolation. Then Ellie finds out about the cellist and Porter flies off with Griffin to Sun Valley, Idaho, where Porter almost gets involved with a flighty heiress (Andie MacDowell) and a convenience store clerk (Jenna Elfman).

Amid all this, there's a lot of hiding in closets, falling out of bed, hanging outside windows, jumping up with your fly undone and ducking in and out of slamming doors. And that's the familiar part. There's nothing new in all that that hasn't been seen since French playwright Georges Feydeau penned "A Flea in Her Ear" in 1907.

Where "Town & Country" gets really good and weird – and I do mean good – is only after about an hour into it in deepest, darkest Idaho. There, Porter tries to hook up with Eugenie (MacDowell), and she takes him to meet her parents, played by Charlton Heston and Marian Seldes. Daddy, an old pal of Ernest Hemingway's, is a bit overprotective of his princess, not to mention something of a gun nut (nice casting touch, that). Mommy is a shrewish and foul-mouthed biddy in a balky motorized wheelchair. Eugenie, who makes no bones about her designs on Porter, announces, "I love to [expletive] architects," then takes him to the same bed she slept in as a child, where she proceeds to pretend that her stuffed animals (named something like Floppy and Stiffy) are "doing it."

Talk about strange – and, by the way, how about some more of that?

Alas, the movie, co-written by Michael Laughlin and Buck Henry (who also cameos as a divorce lawyer) all too soon reverts to its tired high jinks of marital infidelity and the old hoo-hah about working it out, and "You're the only woman I ever really loved" and . . . oh can it.

Enough with the trials and tribulations of Porter and Griffin and Mona and Ellie! I don't really like these arrogant rich people with their myriad homes and lily-white neighbors and first names that sound like last names. Nothing they can say or do can make me care whether they stay together or split up or turn gay. Give me Floppy and Stiffy and Eugenie any day.

"Town & Country" (R, 104 minutes) – Contains obscenity, partial nudity and a couple of relatively discreet sex scenes.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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