Trousseau Consequences

A parked sports car with steamed-up windows rocks from side to side. There's a lot of sex in That Old Feeling, but that's about as graphic as it gets--the film is rated PG-13. That was okay with me--I wasn't panting for a close-up of Dennis Farina and Bette Midler getting it on.

Midler's a movie star, and Farina is her novelist ex-husband. Both long remarried, they elaborately despise each other, but adore their strait-laced daughter (Paula Marshall). When she gets engaged to a congressional candidate (Jamie Denton), Mom and Dad agree to a truce for the duration of the wedding.

Unable to keep their word, of course, they resort to torrid arguing, which gets them so heated up that they wind up in the aforementioned rocking sports car. After a token attempt at a cover-up, they disappear together for a fling in Manhattan. Their frantic spouses (David Rasche and Gail O'Grady) and the scandal-fearing groom set off looking for them, and so, separately, does the bride, with the aid of a resourceful young paparazzo (Danny Nucci). Anybody see where this is heading?

It's not such a bad destination. Heavy-footed, plot-driven bedroom farce isn't a fashionable genre just now, but that's fashion's loss. Directed by good old Carl Reiner, That Old Feeling is straightforward and square--a sex comedy you can take your parents to. It's not a work of any lightness or cinematic grace. But it is likable because it's resolutely in favor of tacky behavior, despite the discretion with which that behavior is presented. It's an unapologetic celebration of horny middle-aged people making spectacles of themselves. Better still, the laughs are at the expense of uptight youth.

Like last year's The birdcage, That Old Feeling is about a conservative kid's terror of being embarrassed by funky parents. Both movies hinge on the joke that children born in the '70s may have a starchier sense of propriety than their folks.

The birdcage was certainly a better-crafted film, with some wonderfully bizarre imaginative flights in the acting. But I think I like That Old Feeling better, because it's more happily crass. It has an element that was perplexingly lacking in The birdcage--it's actually a little bit sexy.

This is thanks, mainly, to Midler, who carries the movie with her relaxed, casual, smiling performance. She even sings a number ("Somewhere Along the Way"). The lovely Marshall seems at first like a bland ingenue, but she loosens up nicely as the film progresses, working opposite Nucci's Jiminy Cricket shutterbug. Rasche and O'Grady suffer in poorly written, cliched supporting parts--he's a nattering psychobabble shrink, she's a paranoid trophy wife--and Denton warrants no deeper description than that of the photographer, who calls him "Malibu Ken." Least fortunate, though, is Farina. A bluff, useful character actor adept at playing villains and hotheads, he's awkwardly cast as a leading man. He's not awful, but after a while, the audience begins to titter at his purse-lipped attempt at a romantic smile.

That Old Feeling bumps along rather agreeably until its final minutes. If only screenwriter Leslie Dixon could have resisted politics. "You liberals!" a detractor snorts at the various lovers near the end. Considering the degree to which political correctness has infected the Left with prudery, the line fairly drips with unearned self-flattery.

That Old Feeling
Directed by Carl Reiner; with Bette Midler, Dennis Farina, Paula Marshall and Jamie Denton.



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