I Think About This a Lot: When Diane Keaton Chose Jack Nicholson Over Keanu Reeves

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I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

When it comes to women I wish I could be, Diane Keaton comes in at the very top of the heap. She’s sophisticated and intellectual, yet winningly clumsy and awkward: the ultimate creative-neurotic. She’s an icon who wears berets and black bowler hats without it being cheesy — as if the problematic accessories were invented solely to adorn her flawless head. The 74-year old recently noted on Instagram that she has not worn color in over four years. She’s everything I want to be when I grow up. (Never mind that I am 32.) And yet, there’s something I will never understand about her pivotal role as playwright Erica Barry in Nancy Meyers’s 2003 rom-com, Something’s Gotta Give.

I’ve had a soft spot for this movie since I was 16. It’s silly yet soulful, a rom-com romp about writing, relationships, and feminism. It takes place in a Hamptons beach house and in Paris, so it also provided me with a dreamy, escapist desire to exist in aspirational places, funding my existence as a writer. But God, if I didn’t come away with some big questions after a recent Netflix revisit.

Why, I wondered as an adult, did Diane Keaton’s character have to end up with the macho, emotionally stunted music exec played by Jack Nicholson instead of the hot, sensitive, genuinely-in-awe-of-her-talents HEART DOCTOR played by Keanu Reeves?

When I was young, I had always thought the Nicholson and Keaton pairing was romantic. He gets her. He changes for her. But adult me? I wanted her to dump his ass. I couldn’t believe that my younger self considered it a victory to see our heroine choose, in the end, to spend her precious time emotionally rehabilitating the archetypically lazy, selfish Man-Child represented by Jack Nicholson’s character.

In the film, Nicholson represents everything that is bad about men. You know this because he’s introduced in a very Sex and the City scene that features a bunch of hot, thin women entering NYC clubs, all set to the 1999 banger “Butterfly” by Crazy Town. The camera zooms in on him in a convertible with a hot, thin woman played by Amanda Peet, who, in the film, is the daughter of Diane Keaton. (Listen to the song on repeat while reading this to get the full effect.)

Nicholson’s character, Harry Sanborn, is a 63-year-old owner of several nameless companies, including a hip-hop label, who only dates women under the age of 30 (like a Forbes list, but somehow even worse). At the movie’s start, he and Peet, a gorgeous 29-year-old Christie’s auctioneer, are hanging out in her mom’s upscale Hamptons beach house, which they think is available for the weekend — but, plot twist! Her mom and aunt happen to be there for the weekend, too.

Everyone instantly hates each other, and they have an incredibly awkward dinner where they fight about feminism. Nicholson has a heart attack when he tries to sleep with Amanda Peet that night, and ends up staying in the Hamptons in the care of her mother, goddess-among-men Diane Keaton, while he recovers.

Though Keaton abhors Nicholson’s brutish ways, she’s swayed by them, too. He’s funny and a smooth talker, an intelligent bad boy who isn’t intimidated by her success. He’s so wrong — his misogyny and devil-may-care lifestyle clashes with her orderly, sanitized one — that the contrariness begins to feel thrilling and right. They fall for each other. They have sex. Keaton is the first woman over 30 that Nicholson has ever slept with, and he’s surprised by how much he likes someone who can call him on his bullshit.

Meanwhile, through all of this, KEANU FUCKING REEVES is waiting in the wings. Reeves plays Julian Mercer, the doctor who treats Jack Nicholson after his heart attack. He’s in his mid-30s and has a monster crush on Diane Keaton, because he has some goddamn sense.

Keanu is young. His hair is floppy. His baby-blue crewneck T-shirt hugs his body in all the right ways. He shops at the farmers market, forgives easily, and loves theater — particularly Keaton’s plays. When Keanu is introduced, Keaton’s daughter and sister practically drool over him.

Keanu, who has always been a babe, has had a resurgence as a Hot Guy™ in the last few years, culminating in his 2019 appearance in the Netflix hit Always Be My Maybe — leading some to say 2019 was the year of Keanu. As the Netflix description of the film correctly argues, “There is no greater sadness than knowing Keanu Reeves is the guy you have to worry about.” So why did Jack Nicholson not have to worry?

Nicholson is old. He wears big black sunglasses way too often. In the hospital, he walks around butt naked in his gown and knocks Keaton over, literally showing his ass while drooling on her turtlenecked boob. He listens to loud music and calls younger women late at night. In one scene he wears an offensively oversized green and yellow polo shirt the likes of which we have not seen since, I don’t know, Aeropostale.

Eventually, Nicholson recovers from his heart attack, and having wooed Keaton with midnight pancakes, revelations about how tired both of them are, and that they wear the same glasses prescription, he returns to his party-hopping NYC lifestyle. His excuse when he breaks up with Diane Keaton (Yes, you read that right: He. Breaks. Up. With. DIANE. KEATON.) after they have sex at the nicest home you’ve ever seen in the Hamptons? “I don’t know how to be a boyfriend,” he says sheepishly. Classic fuckboi.

Keaton, though she’s heartbroken, writes a play about it, like the queen she is, and Keanu shows up at her door, farmers-market flowers in hand (“These are for you to give me when you apologize,” he says with a grin) and the two finally become an item.

And yet, we still get the ending to the movie that we no longer want. Nicholson realizes he loves Keaton, repents of his libertine ways, and shows up on Keaton’s birthday in Paris, which she’s spending with Keanu. She ditches Keanu for Nicholson, and the two reunite on a bridge above the Seine, as snow flurries down and “La Vie en Rose” plays.

I liked this ending when I was younger. It had all the romantic trappings I was taught to look for by film and literature: a man helplessly choosing a woman even though he didn’t want to love her (Mr. Darcy), spontaneously showing up in another country to find her (Mr. Big), changing his entire way of living and outlook on life for her (Harry and Sally). But as I grew older and experienced tumultuous relationships and breakups in my 20s, I realized that love that needs to announce itself with grand gestures, unannounced Parisian appearances, drama, and promises to “change” — it’s just not where it’s at.

Nicholson, though ostensibly on a path to a “new self,” is destined to hurt Keaton more. Their sexy summer in the Hamptons, the way he broke her heart into a million pieces and she wrote the best play she’d ever written: In all likelihood, that was the best it was ever going to be. Continuing it is a recipe for heartbreak.

Yet I admit that heartbreak, while bad for your constitution, is good for writing poems, essays, scripts, you name it. On the bright side, at least in the play Keaton writes in the film, she has Nicholson die in the end.

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