Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Films of Warren Beatty-"Town & Country," starring Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Garry Shandling (2001)

The cast of "Town & Country": Goldie Hawn, Garry Shandling, Diane Keaton, Warren Beatty. There's a reason Garry Shandling is hiding.

Garry Shandling and Warren Beatty in "Town & Country." Yes, this movie really is as bad as this still makes it look.
Warren Beatty’s most recent film, “Town & Country,” made mostly in 1998-99 but not released until 2001, is one of his worst movies, if not his very worst. “Town & Country” is Beatty’s Woody Allen movie. Minus the funny parts. On paper, it might look like a good movie, as it reunites Beatty with two of his former co-stars, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn. Keaton made “Reds” with Beatty, and Hawn appeared in “$” also known as “Dollars” and “Shampoo” with Beatty. Co-star Garry Shandling had also appeared with Beatty in “Love Affair.” So, you’ve got a great cast, with supporting turns from Andie MacDowell, Charlton Heston, Nastassja Kinski, and Jenna Elfman. It’s Warren Beatty in a romantic comedy, what could go wrong?

Everything went wrong. The script wasn’t finished at the time filming began, Keaton eventually had to leave to make her movie “Hanging Up,” at which point the movie still wasn’t done, even though production had been going on for about 9 months! When “Town & Country” tested poorly in April of 1999, they re-shot, but the cast couldn’t be reassembled for another 8 months. Because of all the overages and the re-shooting, the budget skyrocketed, going from a relatively modest $35-$40 million to a disastrous $90 million. For a 104-minute romantic comedy! By the time “Town & Country” was finally released in April of 2001, stories had been swirling for years about what an utter fiasco it was, and it opened to bad reviews and indifferent audiences. “Town & Country” grossed $6.7 million domestically, and added a paltry $3.6 million internationally for a grand total of $10.3 million. Against a budget of $90 million. The director, Peter Chelsom, was clearly overmatched by all his actors, especially Beatty. Chelsom never put his foot down with Beatty. So Beatty did his usual thing, the script kept getting revised, and they got way behind schedule. By all accounts, Beatty and Chelsom were like oil and water on the set. All accounts also stress how much time and money Beatty wasted on the set, by insisting that the script be re-written, and by just delaying things endlessly. Beatty knew that he would be the fall guy if anything went wrong with the movie, so why did he act the way he did on the set? Why cause problems? Why not just shut up and play your part and take the money? There’s no easy answer for that. One problem is that “Town & Country” was the first movie Beatty had acted in without also being a producer, director, or screenwriter since 1975’s “The Fortune.” Beatty was used to getting his own way and having final say on a production. You could be charitable to Beatty and say that he was just trying to make the movie as good as possible. And it could well be that Beatty really thought that everything he did was improving “Town & Country.” But Beatty also should have learned from the debacle of making and marketing “Ishtar” that once a movie has a reputation for being a stinker, and once it misses too many release dates, it usually arrives in theaters dead in the water. 

The script for “Town & Country” is pretty awful. As the movie opens, Porter Stoddard (Beatty) is cheating on his wife (Diane Keaton) with an attractive cello player, portrayed by Nastassja Kinski. The audience is never given any reason or rationale for Beatty’s cheating. We don’t see his marriage to Diane Keaton falling apart and we don’t see Kinski seducing him. So there’s no audience sympathy for his character because there’s no explanation or rationale for his actions. Any kind of sympathy or understanding the audience is supposed to have for Beatty’s character is totally lost from the very beginning of the movie. The rest of the movie is basically Beatty trying to hide his cheating from Keaton, and then running into an attractive woman, so he keeps cheating. Hawn and Shandling play a married couple who are Beatty and Keaton’s best friends. During the course of the movie, Shandling discovers that he’s gay and leaves Hawn. Hawn then sleeps with Beatty. Beatty and Shandling have a “boy’s weekend” at a cabin in Aspen, where Beatty meets and seduces Jenna Elfman, who works as a clerk in a hardware store. Beatty also sleeps with Andie MacDowell, who he meets on a plane. At the end of the movie, Beatty pleads for Keaton to take him back, which she somehow does, and at the end of the movie they are back together and it’s clear that they are working things out. Keaton’s character is kind of a cipher, as we don’t get much information about how she sees the disintegration of her marriage to Beatty. And Keaton basically sleepwalks through the part, lending it her patented Annie Hall-like whimsy, but not much else. 

“Town & Country” would have made a little more sense had the film followed Keaton’s character more. And originally it was supposed to. Mike De Luca, an executive at New Line at the time, said of the original script: “they {Beatty and Keaton} come back to each other after they have both been unfaithful. They both have affairs-there’s a balance.” (“Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America,” by Peter Biskind, p. 516.) However, after the script was re-written De Luca says, “One of the biggest changes, and probably the most damaging change, was that we rewrote the script so that Diane’s character has no affairs, and therefore the sympathy for Warren’s character goes right out the window.” (Biskind, p. 517.) Yup! 

It’s really annoying how every single woman in the movie wants to sleep with Warren Beatty. Speaking as a man, a character like Beatty’s is not very sympathetic because most of us don’t have women throwing themselves at our feet everywhere we go. And also, this is not Warren Beatty at the height of his attractiveness in the 1960’s or 1970’s. It’s 60-year-old Warren Beatty in 1998-2001. He’s still a nice-looking older man, but it’s really unrealistic that someone Jenna Elfman’s age is going to pick him up after a couple minutes of flirting with him at a hardware store. Sure, in real life 60-year-old Warren Beatty could probably find lots of women to sleep with, but he’s Warren Beatty, rich, famous and a powerful movie star. The character he’s playing in “Town & Country” isn’t Warren Beatty. “Town & Country” is a very chauvinistic movie. It’s obvious that it was written by men who don’t care a lot about getting inside the heads of the female characters in the movie; they just want to get inside their pants. 

The failure of “Town & Country” and all the negative publicity surrounding it essentially ended Warren Beatty’s film career. As Peter Biskind writes, “Even if Beatty was not to blame, once again a movie in which he was involved left a trail of wreckage in its wake, as had “Dick Tracy,” “Ishtar,” “Bugsy,” “Love Affair,” and “Bulworth.”” (Biskind, p. 542.) The movies that Biskind lists are the 5 movies that Beatty had made prior to “Town & Country,” making it 6 movies in a row that had not ended well for Beatty. Even though “Dick Tracy” was a hit, Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg had penned a memo highly critical of Beatty’s directing style, and hinting that all the profits still didn’t make up for the headaches that Beatty caused. Lynn Harris, an executive at New Line who worked closely with Beatty on “Town & Country,” had this to say about Beatty’s personality: “He is at the same time brilliant and creative and amazing, and also oddly self-destructive.” (Biskind, p. 543.) Because Beatty is never able to make up his mind and commit to anything, it’s quite possible that he will never make another movie. There have been stories over the last year that he’s very close to finally making the Howard Hughes biopic that he has talked about for decades. Beatty certainly shares some traits with Howard Hughes-when Hughes was producing movies it took him years to finally finish them. Beatty has also said that he’s interested in revisiting “Dick Tracy.” Hopefully he’ll make another great movie. Beatty’s reputation suffers when compared to his contemporary Clint Eastwood, in part because Eastwood has been so prolific over the years. It helps that Eastwood has had an amazing run of terrific movies over the last decade, which have been big box-office hits and have been showered with awards. Eastwood is also well-known in Hollywood for bringing in all of his movies on time and under budget, which is the exact opposite of the way Beatty works. It also seems that at this time in his life Beatty is very content just being a family man and raising his children. Which is fine, it’s certainly his prerogative to live his life the way he wants to. But it would be great to have one more classic Warren Beatty movie.


Jellybaby50 said...

Peter Chelsom is known for being very decisive, so clearly he was hampered in this case. But not all the blame should go to Warren Beatty, it seems. The studio should have put their foot down and taken more control.

Anonymous said...

Casting Shandling also hurt. The only reason Beatty casts him is because he's so queer and creepy looking but it hurts the overall picture to have the second lead be so hard on the eyes.