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Perhaps the teens and pre-teens surrounding me in the theater came to Hanging Up because the posters told them it was a comedy as well as drama. Even so, I was amazed they would put their money into a movie about three middle-aged women struggling to care for Lou (Walter Matthau), their senile and aging father.
Co-writers Delia and Nora Ephron (sisters themselves) try to squeeze laughs from the situation. Lou spends most of his time pinching the nurses and discussing John Wayne's lack of male anatomy when he is checked into a hospital for psychological testing. His daughters (living in three different worlds) deal with Dad's condition and long standing sibling rivalries on their cell phones.
The oldest sister, Georgia (Diane Keaton) the successful owner of a New York based high profile women's magazine, barely has time for these phone calls let alone taking care of Dad. Youngest sister Maddy (Lisa Kudrow), lives closer to home but can't spare much time to help out because she is trying to launch her fledgling soap opera career. So it is middle sister Eve (Meg Ryan) that provides most of the care for their father, including answering his frequent phone calls asking important questions ("Why isn't there room service here?" or "Where's the key to the bar fridge?), and updating her sisters on their cell phones.
Anyone, who has had to deal with the complex issues of aging parents, may wonder where the chuckles are amongst the many argumentative moments filled with profanity, terms of deity, and sexual innuendo. The dramatic side of the script takes over during flashbacks of Eve's childhood with her negligent mother and often drunken father. Although there is one poignant scene when Eve finds a shoulder to cry on, the rest of the story is somehow lacking.
There is not enough depth for such a dramatic theme and not enough comedy even with the verbal sparring. In the end, there's little evidence to show the characters have changed enough to warrant the cutesy conclusion that appears to have been provided so we wouldn't "hang up" in despair.
Hanging Up is rated PG-13: for language and some sex-related material
Cast: Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, Walter Mattau
Studio: (pictures (c)1999 Columbia Pictures)