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Hanging Up

There's an extremely powerful scene in Hanging Up in which Walter Matthau, aging and alcoholic, bulldozes into his grandson's Halloween/fifth birthday party. Drunk and belligerent, he swings a shopping bag at hanging jack-o-lanterns as he rants incoherently, frightening the assembled children and finally reducing his daughter (Meg Ryan) to tears with hateful insults. It's a brilliant piece of acting, certain to send shivers through anyone who has ever lived with an alcoholic parent. Unfortunately, this scene doesn't arrive until two-thirds of the way into the 95 minute film, forcing the audience to endure a full hour of annoying, brittle, self-indulgent yuppie pseudosentimentality first. Marketed as a wacky comedy, Hanging Up is really a depressingly hyper-love-poem to the neurotic self-indulgence of the children of Hollywood royalty. Delia Ephron and her sister Nora based their screenplay on Delia's book, and Matthau's character is based upon their father, Henry Ephron. A successful screenwriter, Ephron penned such classics as Daddy Long Legs, Take Her She's Mine and Desk Set. He was also, one would gather from this film, a creepy lecher and an alcoholic asshole. As he lays dying of some movie-old-guy disease — the kind that reduces aging actors to hitting on nurses and chewing scenery from a hospital bed without any noticeable physical ailments — his three daughters (Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow) call each other on the phone a lot while Ryan flashes back to the many different hairstyles they've had over the years. Ryan's character is a party planner in L.A., which is one of those great movie jobs that pays enough money to live in a million-dollar Los Feliz mini-manse without having to spend more than an hour or so a week actually working. Younger sister Kudrow is a soap opera actress and older sis Keaton runs a phenomenally successful women's magazine. All three are the sort of people that none of us know but we always get stuck behind in traffic, cursing and blowing our horns at them ineffectually as they yammer into their cell phones while they make sudden turns in their Range Rovers without signaling. They have husbands, lovers, and children, but they are so peripheral to these self-involved women's lives as to be almost nonexistent. This is the sort of movie that makes the phrase "chick flick" a deprecation. An hour and a half of these three blondes' phone calls, daddy issues, and changing hairdos is beyond bad cinema, it's torture, and after the double whammy of Michael and Hanging Up, Delia and Nora Ephron should be mandated by federal law to never, ever work together again under penalty of death. The DVD offers a good transfer with digitally mastered audio and anamorphic video, a deleted scene (in case you haven't been punished enough), the HBO: First Look special on the making of the film, cast-and-crew notes, theatrical trailers and an isolated music track. It also features outtakes, which mostly consists of Meg Ryan fluffing her lines and laughing uproariously. It's nice to see that somebody had a good time, anyway.
—Dawn Taylor

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