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Friday, February 6, 2015

"That Old Feeling" 1997 Bette Midler, Dennis Farina, Paula Marshall, Danny Nucci, David Rasche, Gail O'Grady

I *love* "That Old Feeling" and it bugs me that this effervescent bedroom farce is not received as a classic along the lines of "It Happened One Night" or "When Harry Met Sally." For my money, it's a masterpiece in its genre. Comedy is a lot like music. It requires timing, choreography, and expertise to look effortless. "That Old Feeling" is the product of a master – director Carl Reiner – and it shows in every gesture, every beat, every scene. "That Old Feeling" is smart, witty, bubbly, bouncy, sharp and sweet from first scene to last.

"That Old Feeling" doesn't make much sense; it isn't supposed to. It's supposed to make you laugh and feel romantic and good about life, and it does. Anyone, of any age, could see this movie and feel, afterward, that they could walk out the door and stumble across the love of their life. Though I've watched this movie several times, I still laugh out loud at favorite gags.

Molly (Paula Marshall) a straight-laced twenty-something, is marrying Keith (James Denton), a ridiculously handsome politician's son. Molly's divorced parents have not seen each other for years. Lily (Bette Midler) is an actress. Dan (Dennis Farina) is a writer. They hate each other. They, in turn, are married to Alan (David Rasche) a therapist and self-help author, and Rowena (Gail O'Grady) an interior decorator. Lily is being chased by Joey (Danny Nucci) a paparazzi.

The rules of the bedroom farce genre are that a roundelay of characters must rapidly pair off in unlikely ways, their pairings interspersed with improbable plot devices and lots of slamming doors and aghast hands to faces as couplings are discovered. That's pretty much all that happens in "That Old Feeling," right up until the very last moments of the movie. It's no small feat that Reiner keeps all these juggled balls bobbing compellingly in the air.

It's all funny and sexy and smart, but it's also actually pretty deep. "That Old Feeling," like all good bedroom farces, comments on love and hate and attraction, commitment, fidelity, and adultery, and on relationship trade-offs. All of the characters in this film are likeable and they are all flawed. If character X ends up with potential partner Y, she will gain in one area of her life, but lose in another. Charm v stability. Passion v consistency. Love/hate v security. The exciting unknown v the old reliable.

Every performance is terrific. Bette Midler is, well, Bette Midler. She's never been better than she is here. I often find her over-the-top but here she is just the right amount of the Divine Miss M. David Rasche, a former member of the Second City troupe, makes me laugh every time he is onscreen as the therapist and self-help author. He's every bit as funny as Will Ferrell. Danny Nucci is appropriately sleazy and scruffy and he is also wonderful after his transformation via wet fingers and another man's jacket. Dennis Farina is amazingly, wonderfully hot as an arrogant, macho guy who gets what he wants by waving large bills between his fingers under the noses of hotel staff. I could go through the whole cast but suffice it to say that every performance is funny, tender, human, and expert.

One of the lovely plusses of "That Old Feeling." It depicts people over fifty having sex and enjoying it.


I watch this movie over and over because I love the signature of a master's hand in every scene. In the opening scene, a man proposes marriage to a woman. In the background, there is a bouquet of flowers. The flowers are onscreen for less than a minute, but they are lit so beautifully it takes my breath away. It's that kind of meticulous attention to detail that makes a movie worth watching for me. 

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