Oren Little has turned his back on all his neighbors and shunned the notion of being kind to others after the death of his wife. Next door neighbor Leah has put her soul, and her tears, into her stagnant singing career after the death of her husband. But then Oren's son shows up needing Oren to take care of his daughter Sarah. Oren has no patience for children, Leah never had any of her own, but 9-year-old Sarah just might be the spark that allows these two lonely souls to turn their home into a Little Shangri-La.Written by
And So It Goes is a gentle comedy about the fragility of being human. Rob Reiner, its director, suggests that in the eternal presence of youth, it is possible to continue to grow young and transform one's life. Although its main characters, Leah, a widow who sings torch songs in supper clubs but can't get through one without crying (Diane Keaton) and Oren, a widower and veteran Realtor who is just counting the days until retirement (Michael Douglas), are at odds with each other. In the course of events we find opposites attract and are vital to one another's growth. Both are still actively grieving their deceased spouses in very different ways. Oren slips away to the graveyard to talk to his wife, while showing the world a nasty, hardened face. His dream of retirement hinges upon the final sale of the $8.6 million mansion where he lived with her once upon a time. Should the sale go through, he intends to head for the serenity of a solitary life tucked away in Vermont. In the mean time, he must weather the storm of living among others in the cramped quarters of a multiple family dwelling he owns and sardonically nicknames "Shangri-La." Although both Leah and Oren are in fragile shape, they unify when Oren's ten year-old grand daughter is dumped on his doorstep by his son, a man estranged from his father for double digits who is going away to prison. Oren attempts to get rid of the child, but Leah steps in, revealing her material instincts in full bloom. Her "perfect love" with her deceased husband did not enable her to become a mother and this is her opportunity. The vulnerability of Oren's young grand daughter, who his keenly aware that she has been dumped in the hands of an aging, unhappy man who does not want her, is beautifully and delicately rendered.
In their struggle to deal with the child, Oren is humbled by Leah's superb ability to cope and begins to grow fond of both Leah and his grand daughter. In spite of his crude behavior toward his neighbors/tenants in the past, love enters the humble community at "Shangri-La" in the form of the arrival of a ten year old, the adoption of a stray dog, the sudden birth of a baby and the transformation of caterpillar into...a butterfly. This happiness is a metaphor for the potential happiness hidden in even the most banal settings and social situations. Only when events conspire to reveal the more elevated nature in people can both young and old face what the future has in store for them--something that is always a question mark.
And So It Goes is a far more realistic and beautiful love story than the blockbuster hit that Diane Keaton made with Jack Nicholson, As Good As It Gets, over a decade ago. It is not a movie about "beautiful people" living in spotless white houses in the Hamptons or middle aged divorcées who manage snag aging, jaded producers so rich they date twenty year-old girls. That film was a complete fantasy on every level. (Without Keanu Reeves for visual relief it would have been hard to take some of the love scenes.) And So It Goes is a far gentler, far less glamorous film about love "among the ruins" than As Good As It Gets. Its verisimilitude may make less mature audiences uncomfortable for that reason. Ultimately, Keaton and Douglas pull off their roles like the pros that they are. It's a pleasure to see them get to know one another gradually, albeit clumsily and foolishly, in a way that is true to life. I highly recommend And So It Goes for anyone brave enough to watch fragile people still attempting to transform their lives and move forward in the face of the unknown.
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