Eve Mozell (Ryan) is a semiresponsible adult with a propensity for plowing into other people's cars while talking on her cell phone. (Cell phones are ubiquitous in this film's world.) A wife and mother who runs an efficient household and her own business as a party planner, Eve is kindhearted and compassionate, but also prone to guilt, anxiety, and self-doubt. And if just getting through the day weren't taxing enough, she bears the added burden of serving as sole emotional support and confessor for her aged father Lou (Walter Matthau), a selfish, spoiled lush.
Eve's sisters have almost nothing to do with their father and are only too happy to leave that task to their peacemaker middle sibling. Older sister Georgia (Keaton) is a high-powered, self-absorbed magazine publisher. Maddy (Kudrow) is a clueless, barely successful soap opera star.
The story opens with Eve taking her father to the hospital for some tests. Thereafter, every time the phone rings, Eve panics, convinced it's the hospital calling to tell her he's dead. The first time she reacts this way is acceptable, if predictable, but the subsequent six times are just plain annoying.
Annoying is the nicest adjective that could be leveled at Lou. The Ephron sisters may have intended him as a lovable old coot, but he is anything but. Although flashbacks suggest he was an involved, devoted father to Eve, it's difficult to reconcile that image with his later onscreen behavior. Eve's relationship with her sisters -- and with herself -- is as important as her relationship with her father and, not surprisingly, the three are intertwined. But while sibling rivalry, low self-esteem, and guilt and conflict over one's parents are easy for just about everyone to identify with, artifice overwhelms reality here. Not even Ryan, always a personable presence onscreen, makes us care.
Much of Hanging Up takes place on the telephone, an instrument that allows individuals to keep a safe distance from one another at the same time that it permits people to maintain a connection. Increasingly, we live in a cell phone culture, but the film seems far more interested in milking laughs from repeated shots of the sisters making or answering phone calls than from anything substantive.