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'That's Life' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 10, 1986

Blake Edwards, cinema's answer to Gail Sheehy, moves on to yet another crisis, this time going from "10" to 60 without learning a thing. His latest work is aimed at people who routinely mistake "The Phil Donahue Show" for life. It's about coping.

Edwards directs wife Julie Andrews and buddy Jack Lemmon in "That's Life," a tale of a rich and fatuous family of Malibuans who get together for whine and cheese on their patriarch's 60th birthday. Lemmon plays the reluctant sexagenarian and Andrews is his martyred wife, who thinks she has throat cancer but doesn't want to spoil his party.

All weekend, we crosscut from beach party to cancer clinic, where a technician probes Andrew's throat culture. Oooh. Meanwhile, the party preparations continue at a frantic pace, as the kids come home and the gentle manservant makes snacks. Father becomes ever more distraught -- a stammering, impotent hypochondriac who sobs into his pillow, "I never did what I wanted to and time has run out."

Pity the rich. He's a successful architect with a beautiful supportive wife, a son with his own beard stubble and a prime-time TV show, two pretty daughters and a grandchild on the way. He's an unlikely protagonist, but Lemmon's work is sympathetic anyway. Sputtering in his Elmer Fudd-esque way, Lemmon gives this flagging film its only strength, and he just might milk an Oscar nomination from it.

Andrews, the eternal goody-two-shoes, is able to persuade us that husband and wife are indeed coping with a great big milestone. She's like Camille at the Beach, looking pained as she weakly coughs. A-hunh. A-hunh. Indulgence is the rule, as Edwards gives the actors free rein in this largely improvised script.

Edwards cowrote the story with friends and family in mind -- his daughter Jennifer Edwards and Andrew's daughter Emma Walton play the daughters, with the son played by Lemmon's son Chris and a sexy fortune teller who cures Lemmon's impotence played by his real-life wife Felicia Farr. It's like really high-budget home movies, cozy and dull.

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