Town and Country (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Since the French farces of the 17th and 18th century, all urban sex comedies are essentially alike. They have the following plot, more or less.
Two couples are good friends. The men confide in each other. The women do as well. One of the women comes to suspect that her husband is cheating on her, so she walks out on him and won't listen to reason. The other woman asks her husband to look in on her, just because she's worried. Of course, when the husband looks in on her, they end up in bed together, because the woman is eager for revenge, and this is the most comfortable man to start with. The other woman now hears that her husband is seen with another woman, not knowing it was her best friend. She confronts her husband while the other woman is in the room, never dreaming the truth. The husband denies all. 


Nastassja Kinski opens the movie by playing the cello naked. She is photographed sitting, from behind, so only her butt-crack is visible.

Goldie Hawn shows the side of her buns in a sex scene. She is actually wearing thong underwear - but how many 55 year old women have a butt worth photographing?

Well, it turns out that the first guy never had cheated on his wife. It was all just a big misunderstanding. But now he's heard that his wife is seen with someone else, so he decides to cheat for real because if he's going to get punished, he might as well at least get to enjoy the sin. Needless to say, he ends up sleeping with the other guy's wife, who is ripe for it since she now assumes her husband to be a liar as well as a cheat.

The rest of the plot is uncomfortable conversations between various combinations of these four people. Neither husband will admit to his wife what he has done. Neither husband or wife will admit to the best friend what he/she has done. And so forth. Several times, one of them almost catches some other ones in the act. Concoct some minor variations. Add an extra mistress for variety, or make one of the guys gay, or make it an all-black or all-lesbian cast. It doesn't matter. The formula is basically the same. 

Town & Country is basically that film, a 1990's adaptation of a 17th century French bedroom farce, or a 1940's comedy of manners. The details are not exactly in line with my description above, but they are close enough so that the formula is basically respected. 

There are variations on the theme like the fact that Beatty gets into affairs with outside women as well as his friend's wife. Typical of this variation on the formula, there is one scene where all of the women Warren Beatty has slept with are gathered in one place talking to one another, all blissfully unaware of the situation. Oops, my mistake. Those are all the women who slept with the Warren Beatty character. If they actually gathered the woman who have slept with Beatty himself, no bathroom could hold them. In fact, some nations could not hold them. If they filmed it in Luxembourg, they'd have an overflow into at least three other countries.

You may have read something about the travails of this movie. Originally photographed in June of 1998, it didn't arrive in theaters until April, 2001. What happened? I don't know if anybody is telling the real story, but I guess the largest problem was that they lost ten reels of film. The investors were not about to toss out the $80 million that they had already spent on the film, so they put up a few more bucks to re-shoot several scenes, and that was accomplished in April, 2000. Rumors have listed the total budget for this film at $120-$130 million. Other delays were purportedly caused by rewrites, failed test screenings, additional re-cutting, more test screenings, etc. I'm not sure how much of this is reliable information.

If you see the film, you will not be able to imagine where the $120 million went. The film, like all bedroom farces, takes place in bedrooms. The entire film consists of our contemporaries indoors, talking and making out. No car chases, no explosions, no tanks or airplanes, no battle scenes, no special effects, no specially constructed sets, no period reconstructions. I'd sure love to see an accounting for that $120 million. They recreated the battle of Stalingrad for less than that in Enemy at the Gates. In fact, they probably fought the actual battle of Stalingrad for less than that.

This film's truly significant variation from the basic formula is that the characters in this movie are very, very old. So very old and tired that it is amazing that they are still capable of sex. Many people have contended that this film was cursed or plagued with bad luck, but I have to disagree. Considering the age of the cast members, it was an act of supreme good luck they were all still alive two years later for the re-shoots. Charlton Heston was present at Creation (he was God's stunt double), and Buck Henry at least predates the first mammals. Warren Beatty is in his 60's. Goldie and Diane Keaton are both 55. Garry Shandling is the youngster in the cast, at a sprightly 51, but they let him in because he has the body of a much older man.

One thing I concluded about this film: Warren Beatty turned in a much better performance than Charlton Heston. How did I determine this?

  • Charlton played a crazy, gun-toting right-wing nutbag. No real acting needed there.
  • Warren played a guy who was faithful to his wife for 24 years, and delivers an impassioned speech in favor of monogamy. Now THAT'S acting.

I'm not kidding when I say that the same alleged actor, Charlon Heston, president of the National Rifle Association, responded to the recent wave of school shootings by saying that we should arm the teachers. I might go back to teaching in that case, in my new professorial identity of Dirty Scoopy.

"Now Timmy, I might have used up all my bullets on Mary when she 'forgot' her homework or I may have one left. But before you reach for that paper wad, realize that this is a Buntline Special, the longest and meanest-looking handgun ever made. Now, you have to ask yourself before reaching ... do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?". 

My addition to the staff of St Bernadette's Sacred and Peaceful Heart Elementary School is sure to inspire an increase in prayer, especially to St Jude, patron saint of lost causes.

 "Is that a food fight starting, boys and girls? Is that a Twinkie you're about to throw, young man? Go ahead, Timmy, make my day". 

It'll be the only Catholic School where I send you to the principal's office - in a body bag.

Oops, sorry. Forgot about the movie. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

The film isn't totally awful, although the reviews might lead you to think so. It got the same critical pasting that always attends to films with big budgets, big delays, and big egos. The theater critic Kenneth Tynan, in criticizing Albert Camus' Caligula, confessed that he felt the same "petulance critics are prone to display when a work that looked gigantic in conception falls short in execution". It isn't really a bad movie. It just isn't a good one. Do you have a situation comedy you like? If so, you'll find this to be is about the same quality as a good episode. 

But $120 million is a lot of money to throw at a sitcom pilot. If the film were shot in 45 days for a couple million bucks, it would have gotten critical yawns, which is what it deserved. It is rarely touching, rarely honest, rarely very funny. It's just superficial fluff, and while it seems especially inconsistent and discontinuous, as so many critics noticed, it's not so unusual for a broad comedy to meander about without focus.

To me the real problem is that Buck Henry, the writer, is a 70 year old man who has not really kept in touch with what's happened in the world, or in humor, or in scriptwriting in the past thirty years. The film has a dated feel, as if it should star Eliot Gould and Robert Culp, or Streisand and Redford, or Lucy and Desi, or even Gable and Lombard. 

To tell you the truth, I think that a lot of people felt that it represented the kind of gentler comedy they could relate to, and women rate it a respectable 6.0 at IMDb, far higher than men (4.2).  

On the other hand, the common viewpoint was that the comedy bits were not funny. This ironic comment from an IMDb viewer is worth noting:

"Lastly, let me say that, as a comedy aficionado and one who's a real fan of humorous dialogue, too many times I've attended films where the actors' lines are drowned out by the raucous laughter of the audience. I was happy to observe that in 'Town & Country' even during the funniest scenes, the theater was dead quiet. So that all the lines could be heard and savored." 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, as well as a fullscreen version. The widescreen transfer is excellent

  • no meaningful features

Charlton Heston is awarded the Bowfinger award for allowing his own home movie footage to be worked into the film.

Charlton interrupted a streak of several years in which the award went to Charlie Sheen.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: one and a half stars. BBC 2/5, 2/4, Apollo 43/100.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 14% positive reviews, 20% from the top group.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 4.2 
  • With their dollars ... it is one of the biggest money losers in history. Costing between $90 and $120 million, it grossed $7 million domestically
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C.

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