There will be people who like Hanging Up. These people will say it’s a heartwarming story about three cutely neurotic sisters who work through old rivalries and free themselves from an unhealthy addiction to cell phones while coping with a demanding, deteriorating old father, ultimately demonstrating powerful sisterhood by playfully dumping baking flour on each other’s pretty haircuts.
These people will call me cold when I point out that there is not one honest moment, not one, in Hanging Up: A smug, self-serving, charmless exercise in niche-marketed sentiment, it seemingly congratulates baby boomers for dealing maturely with their aging parents (as opposed to what, leaving them in Dumpsters?). But actually, Hanging Up congratulates only novelist Delia Ephron and her older sister and co-screenwriter Nora Ephron on exploiting their own family dynamics for personal gain. And while there is nothing shameful about being moved by an indefensible movie, Hanging Up represents everything so very duplicitous and psychotherapeutically bogus that we as an audience must resist at all costs if we are not to be anesthetized by bunkum.
The three siblings, lazily delineated by well-known actresses doing familiar impersonations, are pop-cultural cliches. Diane Keaton (who also directed), as the oldest, is the tightly wound overachiever whose superficiality and self-involvement are implied because she’s a top magazine editor and she’s single. Lisa Kudrow, as the youngest, is the flaky underachiever whose superficiality and self-involvement are implied since she’s a soap-opera actress and traipses from man to man. And Meg Ryan, as the undervalued middle child — subtly named Eve, after the mother of us all — is the self-appointed heroine, an allegedly adorable superwoman who has a husband, a son, and a job as a party planner satisfying other obnoxious women.
Women are never treated with more disdain than in Ephron productions. Indeed, even likable females are diminished. Because life isn’t fair, Eve bears the weight of ministering to her alternatingly entertaining and tedious alcoholic daddy (Walter Matthau). But because Hanging Up is even less fair than life, Eve accepts comfort in the nursing home cafeteria from a loving Persian matron whose only purpose is to toast the saintliness of such a good blond daughter: ”To your bravery and to your grief,” she murmurs.
To ours, too, for hanging on through Hanging Up. Give me sisters by Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Wendy Wasserstein, or give me Xanax!