The Story of Us

(Rob Reiner, USA, 1999)


What happened to Rob Reiner?

The actor-turned-director once admired in the '80s for his smart, touching comedies (The Sure Thing [1985], The Princess Bride [1987]) began to sign lousy, lifeless, self-important movies like Ghosts of Mississippi (1996). Even the laughs in his later films come across as lazily re-treaded, TV sitcom schtick.

The Story of Us is a strong contender for the worst film of its year. Nothing in it works. Flatly shot and indifferently edited, it coasts entirely on the given charm of its stars, Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. They, unfortunately, are saddled with charmless, grating roles.

This is a romantic comedy with ambitions. It plays like a low-level remake of Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage (1973) – without the adultery, intelligent conversation and agonising, inquisitorial drama. Reiner's film is devoted to fatuous propositions about the meaning of marriage that are leadenly announced in the dialogue, such as this gem: "Histories are not made overnight."

Part of the problem is the static nature of Alan Zweibel's and Jessie Nelson's script. Within its first couple of minutes, the film establishes that this union is a volatile meeting of opposites: Ben (Willis) is the zany, irresponsible sort of guy, while Katie (Pfeiffer) is a buttoned-down control freak. What each loves and needs in the other also becomes what makes the marriage untenable over the long haul.

Having locked in this equation, the film becomes a pale homage to Two for the Road (1967). Ranging back and forth through the years in dreadful montage sequences set to Eric Clapton's twanging guitar, we see the couple loving and fighting, whispering and shouting, working and playing, with and without kids. These scenes demonstrate, over and over, that married life is supposedly long, full and exasperating.

It is rare for romantic comedies – and especially those known as remarriage comedies, where a couple tests their marital bond – to concentrate on the obligations of family. The Story of Us might have been admirable in this regard if it managed to include even one persuasively heartwarming scene between Ben, Katie and their brood.

As they stand, these kids register as mere irritations to exacerbate the formulaic problem of the marriage.

MORE Reiner: Stand by Me

© Adrian Martin March 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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