Grade: F

The telephonic-themed title of Diane Keaton’s incredibly
irritating new comedy-drama makes it quite fair for one to
describe it as the cinematic equivalent of one of those calls
from a telemarker who interrupts your dinner and then won’t
take no for an answer. Shrill, sappy and sadly sitcomish,
“Hanging Up” works overtime to extract smiles and tears from
its viewers but achieves only groans and snores.

Loosely based, it would appear, on the family background of
screenwriters Delia and Nora Ephron (and on the former’s
book), the script centers on three sisters (Meg Ryan, Lisa
Kudrow and Diane Keaton) who must come to terms with the
illness of their increasingly demented (and, as flashbacks
make abundantly clear, alcoholic) father (Walter Matthau). The
sibling most directly affected is Ryan, who’s on site and must
simultaneously deal with the hospitalized old man while trying
to juggle her catering job and the needs of her family; the
other daughters, the one an actress and the other a glamorous
magazine publisher, are more distant, detached, and self-
absorbed, and communicate with the increasingly flustered Ryan
by omnipresent cell phone until they all get together for
sisterly arguments and the inevitable hugs at the end.

There may be a market for this alternately annoying and cutesy
bit of phoniness with a few viewers, but most will find it
barely tolerable. Ryan gives one of her worst performances as
put-upon Eve Marks, turning the poor woman into a twittering,
sad-sack caricature. Kudrow glides smoothly if unremarkably
through her portrayal of shallow Maddy, while Keaton seems
sadly in tune with the role of the coldly driven Georgia.
Matthau chews up the scenery as the supposedly lovable
curmudgeon Lou Mozell, who comes across as a fellow who thinks
he’s doing a perpetual Shriner’s Club roast. Adam Arkin and
Jesse James, by contrast, are nicely restrained as Ryan’s
long-suffering husband and son, and Duke Moosekian does a
pleasant turn as a physician whose car Ryan crashes into (the
“revelatory” sequence in which the doc’s mother, played by
Ann Bartolotti, advises Ryan to distance herself from her
troubles is, however, crushingly obvious and saccharine).

Maybe writing “Hanging Up” had some therapeutic value for the
Ephron sisters, but if so they might have had the good sense
to keep it to themselves and not inflict the piece on a hapless
cast and an unsuspecting audience. One can always say that
the proper response to the picture is Walking Out, but it
would be better to have a kind of cinematic Caller-ID system
in place, so that one would be warned not to answer its call
in the first place.