Dir: Nancy Meyers.US. 2003. 123mins.

In this terrific new romantic comedy, writer-director Nancy Meyers (The Parent Trap, What Women Want) has given Jack Nicholson the Christmas present of a lifetime. Turning to her (and his) advantage the actor's off- and on-screen persona as skirt-chaser who specialises in younger women, Meyers has constructed a heady and hilarious, at times even wittily Brechtian, delight that remains utterly charming throughout.

There is, frankly, nothing terribly new here - a man who refuses to commit is hardly a novelty, even if he is 63 years old - but the script is full of surprises and on the rare occasions when it does threaten to sag, the chemistry between the principals, Nicholson and Diane Keaton, buoys it up. Nicholson himself has never been better, but the true surprise here is Keaton, whose risky and moving performance, as a dried-up fiftysomething re-introduced to the pleasures and pains of love, more than deserves the award for Best Actress she recently garnered from the National Board of Review.

Despite an overlong running time and an ending that flounders a bit before reaching a satisfying conclusion, the film should do extremely well with its older target audience both in the US and around the world. Whether the coveted younger demographic will be as entranced as their parents and grandparents, though, remains to be seen. In any case, Something's Gotta Give has a clear shot at winning a Golden Globe in the Best Musical or Comedy category, and Keaton could easily pick up an Oscar nomination for her work here.

Harry (Nicholson) is a record company executive who's having a fling with Marin (Peet), a woman who is thirty years younger. During a holiday weekend at the Hamptons, Harry and Marin run into Marin's mother, Erica (Keaton), a successful New York playwright, and her feminist academic aunt Zoe. When Harry suffers a mild heart attack, he's treated by a thirty-something doctor named Julian (Reeves), an avid fan of Erica's work who begins to pursue her romantically. When Harry himself becomes intrigued by Erica, complications ensue and Harry's life is turned upside down.

Meyers knows how to inject new life into a tired old genre, and somehow manages to fulfil all the usual generic expectations while keeping it real and true. The comic timing Nicholson and Keaton display here, including some great and unembarrassed slapstick, should be studied in acting classes. The script is uniformly excellent - its additional level of self-reflexivity, when Erica puts Harry in her play, gives it some additional aesthetic heft beyond the merely funny - and the dialogue is superb, but the two actors are so natural that they give you the sense that they're making up their lines as they go along.

Not inconsiderable is the oomph the picture gets from its accomplished secondary cast: Peet is gorgeous and sexy, and more than holds her own both comically and dramatically against the veterans; Reeves's trademark wooden acting for once finds its completely appropriate home in a comedy; and McDormand lights up the screen, as always, even if she's only there for 15 minutes.

Prod cos: Columbia Pictures, Waverly Films
US dist:
Sony Pictures Entertainment
Int'l dist
Colombia TriStar Film Distribution International
Bruce A Block, Suzanne McNeill Farwell, Meyers
Michael Ballhaus
Joe Hutshing
Hans Zimmer, Blake Neely
Main cast:
Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, Jon Favreau