Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Hanging Up: Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - Every Family Has A Few Hang-Ups

When Eve (Meg Ryan) isn't being pulled in a million directions by her own life, she's being sucked into lengthy phone conversations with her cranky father (Walter Matthau) or her two sisters, successful magazine entrepreneur Georgia (Diane Keaton) and career-challenged Maddy (Lisa Kudrow). As the family becomes and more dependent on Eve, transforming her into the human switchboard that connects them all together, Eve discovers that the ties that bind can also be the ties that gag! Her revelation doesn't sit well with her sisters, though, forcing Eve to realize that sometimes to be heard, you just have to, well, hang up!

Director: Diane Keaton
Cast: Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, Lisa Kudrow, Walter Mattheau, Adam Arkin, Cloris Leachman
Academy Awards: None.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & Dolby Surround; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single side - dual layer; 28 chapters; rated PG-13; 95 min.; $24.95; street date 6/27/00.
Supplements: Deleted Sequence; Gag Reel; Isolated Music Score; HBO First Look: Getting Connected, the Making-Of Hanging Up; Talent Files; Production Notes; Theatrical Trailers.
Purchase: DVD | Book - Delia Ephron | Score soundtrack - David Hirschfelder, Various Artists | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/C+

What was I thinking when I agreed to review Hanging Up? This film concerns a trio of sisters (played by Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow) whose elderly father (Walter Matthau) takes ill. The middle sister, Eve (Ryan) bears most of the responsibility for keeping tabs on Dad, and all four largely keep in touch over the phone (hence the title).

Hanging Up had two strikes against it right off the bat. First, it features a great deal of use of cell phones. I absolutely loathe cell phones. I think the person who developed the technology should be tried for crimes against humanity. There's little worse than watching self-important jerks trotting down the street or cruising around town as they blather obnoxiously into their phones; it always has that "I'm a real big-shot!" air and is getting more annoying by the day.

Virtually all of the main characters in HU neatly fit into that "self-important jerk" category. They all have that harried, "I've got important business to do here!" attitude as they march around and yak into their ever-present phones. To me, there's little that makes characters less appealing and sympathetic than watching them spew their inanities into cell phones as the storm from place to place, and this factor immediately made me feel negatively about the leads.

The second strike stems from the fact that I loathe "chick flicks". Please note that I'm not saying that I hate character-driven, emotional films that are primarily about or aimed toward women. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of the genre, but it's not even remotely a given that I'll dislike such films. As a few examples, I loved Sophie's Choice, I liked City of Angels, and even Girl, Interrupted was much more compelling than I expected.

No, when I use the term "chick flick" here, I refer to films of a more pandering, superficial and cloying nature, the ones that exist solely to evoke an emotional response through their sensitive natures. That's HU, a movie that has no reason to exist other than as a semi-comic tear-jerker.

Unfortunately, it's a very unentertaining semi-comic tear-jerker. Much of this stems from those obnoxious characters. There's not a sympathetic or appealing personality to be found in this mess. Meg Ryan may be "America's sweetheart", but I can't stand her. Actually, that's not completely accurate, for I really have nothing against her as a person or as an actress; I just almost never like her movies. A review of her resume shows that of her 25 or so films, COA is the only one I actually liked (though Innerspace wasn't bad). Ryan specializes in nauseatingly sentimental and cutesy pictures, and though she's a competent performer, the material invariably is pretty bad.

Eve should be the most appealing character her, and I suppose she probably is, but that's not saying much. She remains self-involved, self-pitying and unlikable. I like Kudrow and I don't like Keaton, but I found both of their characters equally intolerable. Their father (Matthau) also seems grating and annoying. He's not a lovable curmudgeon - he's just an obnoxious jerk.

Keaton directed this mess from a screenplay by girlie-film queens Delia and Nora Ephron. It was a massively egotistical move for Keaton to cast herself as one of the sisters as she's 15 years older than Ryan and 17 years senior to Kudrow. In and of itself, this isn't a horrible stretch, since it's not unthinkable for a family to include children of diverse ages. However, Keaton has the audacity to make her character apparently close in age to the other two; we see flashback scenes in which all three girls play together and there sure doesn't look to be more than a five or six year difference between youngest and oldest. Granted, Keaton does look quite exceptional for her age, but still - for the 54-year-old to try to play a character in the same age range as women not yet out of their thirties really pushes the boundaries of sensibility.

And Hanging Up pushes the boundaries of acceptable and tolerable cinematic entertainment. By no stretch of the imagination is it the worst film I've seen, but it's rather unenjoyable and unpleasant nonetheless. The emotional parts lack impact or resonance - I actively rooted for Matthau's death just to get past that part of the film - and the comic moments are far from funny. The package combines multiple negatives but can offer no positives to balance out the bad parts.

The DVD:

Hanging Up appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed edition was viewed for this article. Another day, another fine transfer from our friends at Columbia-Tristar (CTS)!

Sharpness looks consistently clear and well-defined, with very few instances of any annoying softness. That seems all the more terrific since much of the film was shot indoors, where lower light levels tend to create a mushier image. Indeed, the interiors aren't as bold as the outside scenes, but they nonetheless appear crisp and accurate. Moiré effects are not a concern, but I did see a moderate amount of edginess due to the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. As one would expect from a four-month-old movie, the print itself appears clean; I noticed no evidence of speckles, scratches, grain, hairs, nicks or other flaws.

Colors appear nicely realistic and full. Visual design was not much of an emphasis on this project, obviously, so none of the hues stand out, but they seem accurate and tasteful. Black levels appeared deep and rich, and shadow detail was appropriately opaque. All in all, it's a very strong picture.

The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't quite as good, but for a fairly subdued movie like HU, one doesn't expect a cranked-up mix, and what we find here seems more than satisfactory for this sort of project. The soundfield largely remains anchored to the forward speakers, where it creates a pretty broad and diverse image. We hear a nice range of discrete sounds that pop up from the side channels, and it helps make the environment adequately involving. The surrounds provide less information and generally restrict themselves to adding an emphasis to the forward channels. At times I heard unique audio from the rears, but this happened pretty rarely. Nonetheless, the soundfield works effectively for this movie.

Audio quality appears very good. Dialogue sounds consistently warm and natural, and no issues related to intelligibility occur. Effects are not an emphasis, but they seem accurate and realistic, and I noticed no distortion. The music appears excellent. David Hirschfelder's score sounds wonderfully broad and rich, and the music comes across with some strong bass as well. Ultimately, the mix lacks the ambition to rate anything above a "B+", but it serves its subject nicely.

Hanging Up doesn't qualify as a true special edition, but it does include a few supplemental features. First is a 12 minute "HBO First Look" program called "Getting Connected: the Making of HU". This is a rather typical example of the old tried and true promotional puff piece formula. Actually, it's a little more sickening than most, since much of the time is devoted to gushing testimonials to Kudrow, Ryan and - especially - Keaton from the various participants. (Given the examples of the film itself and this program, I dare say that Keaton is on her way to rivaling the narcissism of Barbra Streisand!) "Getting Connected" is actually a decently watchable program, as it includes some interesting shots from the set, but don't expect any depth.

Film score fans will be happy to note that HU includes all of Hirschfelder's music reproduced in all its 5.1 glory. I'm not a member of that club, but I do think it's a nice feature when DVDs offer isolated scores, so I'm happy to see it here.

The DVD gives us one deleted scene that runs a whopping nine and a half minutes. This piece picks up on the segment in which Matthau's character - in a delusional state - comes on to Eve and extends into another flashback reel. I found the unused scene to be rather grating and pointless, and it seemed redundant as well.

A five and a half minute "gag reel" also appears. This mainly consists of shots of Ryan giggling and flubbing her lines. Many of the "hilarious" outtakes also are found in "Getting Connected", which makes the "gag reel" somewhat redundant. However, it's almost worth suffering through five minutes of "cute" shots of Ryan to see Keaton's comic (?) profanity-laced tirade at the end.

Finally, the DVD tosses in some of the old standby features. The usual terrible "Talent Files" that CTS imposes on most of their discs appear; we get brief and nearly useless biographies for Keaton, Ryan, Kudrow, Matthau, and the Ephron sisters. The DVD's booklet includes some basic but interesting production notes, and the disc itself gives us the theatrical trailer for HU plus an ad for fellow Ryan project Sleepless in Seattle. Note that CTS offer HU and SIS together in a specially-priced package. Whereas the two separately list for a total of $53, the two-fer features an MSRP of only $48. Hey, it's not much, but if you want both DVDs, it makes sense.

Unfortunately, it doesn't make any sense to want to own both of those DVDs, because that means you'd then possess a copy of a movie as abysmal as Hanging Up. While the film could have been worse, it's hard to imagine such a terrible fate. At least the DVD provides very strong picture and sound, and it includes enough extras to offer a little extra value. Unfortunately, the movie itself remains a dog, and should be left on the shelf. Life's too short to waste on treacly trash like Hanging Up.

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