Friday April 4, 1997
Bette Midler knows who she is, and what it is she should do: Walk loudly and carry a big shtick.
She's done it for a long time, and she does it well. And she's seldom been more Bette than as the brassy, sassy and lethally theatrical Lilly of "That Old Feeling," a shticky situational comedy that pays tribute to director Carl Reiner's roots in television while giving some well-deserved exposure to a lot of talented people.
These include Dennis Farina, who plays Lilly's ex-husband, Dan, from whom she's been divorced for 14 years--and for whom she harbors a lethal reservoir of venom. Dan returns the affection. The two can't be in the same room without an EMS unit on call.
How two such profoundly ethnic characters had such a homogenized daughter as Molly (Paula Marshall) is a credit to the miracle of movie casting, but when Molly gets married, Lilly and Dan go on the honeymoon. Beginning with some Porsche-rocking congress in the parking lot at Molly's reception, their mutual hatred turns to lust and they leave their respective spouses behind for a whirlwind tour of a luxury Manhattan hotel suite.
As well as things are going for them, they don't start well for us. Reiner actually has the nerve to open with a scene of Molly choking on her engagement ring, which was placed in her chocolate mousse by order of her unctuous fiance, Keith (Jamie Denton). It's the kind of thing that, had you seen it walking into the theater, might prompt you to turn around and walk out. The movie gets better.
Actually, "That Old Feeling" is a very traditional comedy in a surreal sort of way. Both Dan and Lilly are married to people with whom they cheated while married to each other. And both of the new people are losers. Lilly's husband, Alan (a very funny David Rasche), is a self-help author and therapist whose own psyche is a bit unhinged. Dan's wife, Rowena (Gail O'Grady, formerly of "NYPD Blue"), is a closet harpy. The moral lesson is that the first marriage should never have been put asunder--which, given the hair-trigger tempers on both parties, is a little hard to swallow.
As is Molly's virginity, which isn't actually mentioned but exists as a kind of sexual Godot. The Dan-Lilly disappearance puts Molly's honeymoon on hold. So when she recruits Joey the paparazzo (Danny Nucci) to help find Mom, and things heat up between them, her deflowering becomes a subject of high suspense. It's quaint and, considering the animal coupling going on everywhere else in the movie, a little weird.
But "That Old Feeling" is generally fun, thanks to old pros Midler and Farina, and Nucci, who plays Joey as a combination Joe Pesci-Jerry Lewis and provides an antidote to the rigidity of Molly and Keith. In fact, forget what I said about "traditional" values: Dan and Lilly are having too much fun to be role models for anyone.
That Old Feeling, 1997. PG-13 for language and sex-related material. A Sheinberg production, in association with Boy of the Year and All Girl productions, released by Universal Pictures and the Bubble Factory. Director Carl Reiner. Producers Leslie Dixon, Bonnie Bruckheimer. Executive producer Tom Joyner. Screenplay by Leslie Dixon. Cinematographer Steve Mason. Editor Richard Halsey. Costumes Robert De Mora. Music Patrick Williams. Production design Sandy Veneziano. Art director Alicia Keywan. Set designer Steve Shewchuk. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Bette Midler as Lilly. Dennis Farina as Dan. Paula Marshall as Molly. Gail O'Grady as Rowena. David Rasche as Alan. Jamie Denton as Keith. Danny Nucci as Joey.