"The Lemon Sisters" are aptly named losers, everyday casualties of their own grand ambitions and limited means. Bosom buddies played by Diane Keaton, Carol Kane and Kathryn Grody, they would be a girl group, but their Supremes dreams are dashed on the reedy realities of their voices and ineptitude.
Losers, like "The Honeymooners," can be profoundly entertaining, but these losers are irritating as sand flies. They are a trio of oh-so-daffy dames, who are caught in the Atlantic City that was, just as the movie's heart is caught in the black-and-white flashbacks of a gentler New Jersey.
Director Joyce Chopra of "Smooth Talk" fame and "Bright Lights" infamy directs this almost charming but finally soggy comedy. It can be said that Chopra knows the ways of a woman's heart and of girl talk, and that aspect of her talent comes through like a sliver of sun on a cloudy day. Trouble is, she's more interested in the chatter than in the gist of Jeremy Pikser's screenplay, which is washed away like a footprint in the sand.
The film opens on the 9-year-old chums crossing their hearts and swearing to meet every Monday for a zillion years. And when the flashback fades into 1980, they have been true for 25 years, singing together in some Atlantic City backwater for the mom-and-pop crowd. Keaton, stammering and twitching, is Eloise, a woman obsessed with her late father's memory and therefore unable to accept the affections offered by C.W. (Ruben Blades), an affable cab driver. Her friends, the salty Nola (Grody) and the daffy Franki (Kane), point out C.W.'s good qualities to Eloise.
It's not all that surprising that the three friends spend much of their time standing by, talking about or leaning on their men -- in Eloise's case, her dead father. Franki, all aching sweetness in Kane's hands, is the most gullible of the trio, and with the help of her lover-manager (Aidan Quinn), she goes off to star-climb when her friends refuse to buy her a nightclub with the $200,000 they've made by selling their family businesses.
Nola loses her half almost immediately by allowing her well-meaning husband (Elliott Gould) to expand the family's saltwater taffy company. It fails the day it opens, because a casino up the boardwalk has started giving away the gooey stuff. Eloise loses her half almost immediately by spending it on broken busts and plaster gewgaws from a Greco-Roman gambling establishment. Then she goes and almost dies because as a lifetime asthma sufferer, she insists on living with seven cats.
There she is in an oxygen tent, for all the world like Barbara Hershey fading away in "Beaches," only "The Lemon Sisters" isn't that maudlin or that sudsy. It's rather more like "Mystic Pizza" with middle-aged women acting dumber than teenage pizza waitresses.