As one of the great American actresses from the heyday of the 1970s, we don't think it's a stretch to say that Diane Keaton is a treasure. From Annie Hall to Reds to Looking for Mister Goodbar to, yes, we're just going to say it, Baby Boom, Keaton has a filmography to rival just about anyone's. And she's still working today, consistently; leading roles in films, which is not something that can be said of the grand majority of her contemporaries.
But not all films (or film roles) are created equal, and for the last decade, Keaton's choices have begun to take a certain tenor. While it's unfair to the point of cruelty to compare anyone's career to Meryl Streep's, the truth is that Keaton's recent roles, including this week's And So It Goes, have been frustratingly inessential. The stranger thing: they all seem to have the ingredients for a great movie ... in about 1993 or so.
How did we get here? How long has it been since we enjoyed a Diane Keaton performance? Let's examine her career throughout the new millennium and attempt to diagnose exactly what went wrong.
Early Signs of Demise
For the purposes of this article, we're setting the line of demarcation for Diane's Dark Age at just after 2003's Something's Gotta Give. That was her last Oscar nomination and her last movie to top $100 million at the box office (at $124 million, it more than doubles the box-office take of anything she's made in the decade since, and in fact outgrosses Keaton's last five films combined). But there were bad omens before that. After her banner year of 1996 (a box-office hit with The First Wives Club and an Oscar nomination for the indie Marvin's Room), she made, in order: The Other Sister for Garry Marshall; Hanging Up, which she directed from a screenplay by Nora and Delia Ephron; and Town & Country, a re-teaming with her Reds co-star Warren Beatty.
Now, the less said about The Other Sister the better, but the failures of Hanging Up and Town & Country are fairly instructive when it comes to looking at Keaton's recent career swing. Obviously, she must've seen something in Hanging Up since she chose to direct it, and it's not like Nora Ephron was so past her prime at this point (though after this, she'd only write two more films: the terrible Bewitched and the rather enjoyable Julie & Julia). But the attempt to re-create that First Wives Club three-funny-ladies vibe was apparent.
Town & Country was exponentially more transparent, a sad little last-gasp of a movie. It's the final acting credit for Warren Beatty, the last screenwriting credit for Buck Henry (until his upcoming comeback adapting Philip Roth's The Humbling), and the only movie Goldie Hawn made after this one was The Banger Sisters. In retrospect, considering what a killer this project turned out to be, the fact that Keaton even has a career after having made it is something of a miracle.
A Glimmer of Hope
On paper, a 128-minute movie about Keaton and Jack Nicholson being neurotic and falling in love while wearing beige is not the recipe for a late-career comeback. Yet Something’s Gotta Give was exactly what she needed. It was as if Nancy Meyers shook her shoulders and for one brief, shining moment, everything was good again. Keaton's Best Actress nomination was well-earned for giving Erica Barry so many wonderful imperfections. The movie was a smash success, and it looked for a second like we might have another Streep (box office/critical maven late into her career) on our hands.
Next up wasThe Family Stone, a movie that certainly didn't deliver entirely on its promise. Rather than a holiday-season hit, it was a modest success. Rather than the hearty Best Supporting Actress run that was expected for Keaton, we got an odd Golden Globe nod for Sarah Jessica Parker and nothing more. But this has become a solid little performer on cable, and the scene where Keaton shows Rachel McAdams the photograph of her pregnant and says "That's you and me, kid" is just a killer, and we should give this one a break.
The Dark Age Begins
Watching the trailer for Because I Said So is a confounding experience. Go ahead, press play and take a look. As you watch, you may think to yourself, 'This can't be real, right? Someone made a parody of a Nancy Meyers movie trailer – but, like, not a good parody, just one of those that older relatives share on Facebook and you pity-like because they're family.' Why Keaton or any of her co-stars participated in this mess (Lauren Graham, just look at your choices) is a mystery. It is something of a standout in Keaton's canon, however: It is the precise moment everything began falling apart.
Mad Money was another trip to that First Wives Club well. "What worked for Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn will surely work for Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes" was a sentence uttered (or one very much like it) in Hollywood in 2008. "Let us get the director of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood!" someone else exclaimed. (True to Keaton's widow-maker-of-the-2000s form, Callie Khouri would not be asked to direct another film after this, though that's hardly Diane's fault.)
Unlike the last two films, you can understand why Keaton would sign on for Morning Glory. Though Aline Brosh McKenna wrote only one good script prior to this, it was a pretty great one. Rachel McAdams once held great promise as the Cool Girl antidote to Anne Hathaway. Harrison Ford is an actor people seem to like to work with, though all evidence would seem to indicate otherwise. This didn't seem like a dud, but the stars' chemistry never quite sparked and the script was more reheated rom-com than "it's actually cerulean." Basically, we wanted this to be Keaton's Miranda Priestly moment, but it simply wasn't up to par. That's all.
Come Back, Diane
Darling Companion is where things started to get truly funereal in the Keaton filmography. Once again, Keaton is part of an incredibly accomplished ensemble (Kevin Kline! Dianne Wiest! Richard Jenkins! Sam Shepard!) and working for a legendary director ... whose best days were behind him. The Big Chill's Lawrence Kasdan hadn't made a movie since 2003's Dreamcatcher, and he hadn't made a movie people liked since, we don't know, French Kiss in '93? I Love You to Death in 1990? That Darling Companion barely made it into theaters in the U.S. and never cracked a million dollars at the box office is frankly appalling given the talent involved – though perhaps not surprising given the final product.
Perhaps Keaton stumbled into wardrobe on the set of The Big Wedding and thought it was a Nancy Meyers movie. It certainly looked beige enough. Alas, Justin Zackham is no Meyers, and a star-stacked cast couldn't save this Wedding from failure. Keaton's co-stars in this one: Robert De Niro and Susan Sarandon, again brilliant and accomplished actors whose teaming up couldn't capture even a fraction of the magic they've shown elsewhere in their careers.
And so we arrive at And So It Goes, a film that hews to Keaton's recent formula in all the worst ways: middlebrow director of serious acclaim whose best days are likely behind him? Rob Reiner. Age-appropriate co-star who appears to be using this time with Diane to take a break from the projects where he's actually trying? Michael Douglas, yes. Buzz of any kind? Zero.
We point this out not to bury Diane Keaton. She remains a delightful presence and despite even this lengthy stretch of frustrating mediocrity, she remains unquestionably a star. That she's been hamstrung by films that seem to have all the ingredients correct except for the right decade is a problem, one that's robbing us of one of our greats. Let's get to fixing that, Hollywood.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.