If a romance-based movie begins with couples already married, it is almost inevitable that there is marriage trouble ahead. That is exactly what happens with the two couples in “Town and Country.”
The first, Porter and Ellie Stoddard (played by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton respectively), are celebrating their 25th anniversary in Paris with their best friends, Griffin and Mona (Garry Shandling and Goldie Hawn), the other married couple. Right before the Paris trip, Porter narrates to the audience that he is having an affair with Alex (Nastassja Kinski), a beautiful cellist. This sets the theme for much of the movie, as both Porter and Griffin are cheating men, though they do it for different reasons. Griffin is gay, though it takes most of the movie for him to admit it. Porter goes through a series of possible women to have an affair with, including Andie MacDowell and Jenna Elfman. He seems completely unable to stay faithful until his son catches him in the act.
The film seems to be about communication and honesty, and what the lack of it can do to relationships. This is applicable to couples of any age, though this movie certainly concentrates on middle-aged people.
The primary younger characters are the children of Porter and Ellie, Tom and Alice, and their respective significant others. To emphasize the generation gap, Tom”s girlfriend is wild and pierced, and Alice”s boyfriend Omar is from some unidentifiable foreign country and cannot speak a word of English. Omar and Alice seem to communicate better than the married couples, though, as Ellie is caught up in her own world and always seems to be talking to only herself. Porter spends much of his time rehearsing what to say to Ellie instead of actually saying it.
The dramatic thread that runs throughout seems important to the meaning of the movie, but an attempt at comedy fills most of the hour and fifty-four minutes. There are a few funny scenes, often based on simple physical comedy, but the overall result is oddly placed, awkward jokes and occurrences. The cast is packed with award winners and nominees, with even Charlton Heston showing up. Heston characteristically wields a gun in most of his scenes, so he does not really show any range of talent.
This lack of talent unfortunately describes most of the actors, despite their potential. Goldie Hawn is unusually overdramatic and unconvincing. Andie MacDowell”s character is far too eccentric for an actress to play successfully, thanks to the uncoordinated writing of Michael Laughlin and Buck Henry.
Another example of this is the out-of-place literary references, perhaps thrown in to add middle-aged sophistication, such as the multiple allusions and quotes from Ernest Hemingway and Walt Whitman. No sophistication is achieved, just confusion.
Some of director Peter Chesolm”s visual coincidences (for instance, all of Peter Stoddard”s potential mistresses and his wife end up in the same bathroom at the same time) help the plot a bit, but not enough. Porter says one of the most important elements of a marriage is “continuity.” If so, “Town and Country” is the equivalent of a rather doomed marriage.