Phoned In 

Doing time with the Ephron family

Wednesday, Feb 16 2000

That, in essence, is Hanging Up -- yak, bicker, yak, bicker, make up, all courtesy of AT&T. I have not read Delia’s book, in which she nervously antes up her family‘s galloping dysfunction by divorcing her parents, but if the movie is at all faithful to its spirit, it must be a singularly self-serving volume. In the movie, the only sister with any salvageable qualities is Delia’s alter ego, Eve, a party planner played by Ryan with the wearying gamine charm that has calcified into shtick. A middle child and her father‘s darling from the get-go, Eve has been stuck with caring for her ailing dad (Walter Matthau), whom she adores. Now the irascible old goat may -- at last -- be dying, and Eve must bear the brunt of his endless demanding phone calls, with dubious input from her older sister, Georgia (Keaton), a hideous hybrid of Grace Mirabella and Tina Brown who has named her women’s mag after herself, and the youngest, Maddy (Lisa Kudrow), a soap-opera starlet with nothing in her addled head but the latest chapter in her character‘s tortured life.

Matthau, who strikes the only minor key in the whole excitable show, is quite affecting as the old man whose compulsive randiness barely masks a deep loneliness occasioned by his wife walking out years ago. Certainly, he’s the only one with anything resembling an inner life, which his real-life daughters plainly would rather he kept to himself. The Ephrons, orgiastic punch-liners that they are, can only construe their family as some kind of malicious sitcom. Keaton, who can do better (Unstrung Heroes), has taken them at their word. Much of the action and most of the dialogue in Hanging Up consist of a kind of telephonic screwball, which is about as entertaining as trying to eat lunch while someone at the next table bellows stock reports into his cell phone. Georgia and Maddy yell, evade responsibility, dispense useless advice; Eve suffers. Periodically, the flow of jokes slows for a misty-eyed flashback into the family past -- history as hairdo -- cued by Eve gazing into the middle distance with rheumy eyes.

Before the climax -- a bitchy sibling showdown in basic black, followed by three blond heads welded together in a Rugby huddle -- there‘s a pedagogic moment when a kindly Iranian matron tells Eve, beleaguered not only by Dad but by the two Ugly Sisters whose true function in the movie is to make her look good, that “sometimes it’s necessary to disconnect.” No kidding. That Nora and her sisters might be willing, for the sake of a quick buck at the box office, to see themselves thus mauled by Delia is bad enough. That we are supposed to find something to admire in this callow crew is insufferable.

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