The Story Of Us
Rating -

Drama (US); 1999; Rated R; 94 Minutes

Bruce Willis: Ben Jordan
Michelle Pfeiffer: Katie Jordan
Tim Matheson: Marty
Rob Reiner: Stan
Rita Wilson: Rachel
Paul Reiser: Dave

Produced by Frank Capra III, Tammy Glover, Jessie Nelson, Rob Reiner, Jeffrey Stott and Alan Zweibel; Directed by Rob Reiner; Screenwritten by Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Melodramas suck. I say that with open honesty because I can seldom stand films that masquerade around as deeply moving stories, when really they are nothing more than cheap sentimental tearjerkers. Those few that have favorable payoffs, or an honest message in them, tend to be some of the best of their time. There are, however, others that have the curtains pulled in front of them, and retain some minor decency due to the efforts of actors and the directors. Such is the case with the recent "Music Of The Heart," which is predictably weepy, but favorable because of the Oscar-caliber performance from Meryl Streep. Rob Reiner, the director of "The Story Of Us," is a man with determination and honesty, who knows his movie is sentimentally pathetic, and subsides those dilemmas by sending two big stars with marvelous acting backgrounds into the fray.

Meet Michele Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis. Both are well-revered, exceptional actors who have had their share of successes and heartaches in the past. The problem Pfeiffer is prone to is presenting great performances in movies that aren't very good (see "The Deep End Of The Ocean" for details), and Willis seldom conveys his potential, often settling for weak roles in movies loaded with overblown visual effects. But they both work well together in "The Story Of Us"--they drive the chemistry so far and high that, despite a contrived script, helps the movie succeed.

Pfeiffer and Willis play a married couple: Ben and Katie Jordan, whose 15-year marriage is on the rocks. They've endured every problem and virtue that you would expect a married couple to; but after all the time they have spent together, there is nothing left to save. Or so it seems.

Sometimes, for answers, the choose to turn to the nearest friends instead of each other. The friends discuss their problems and offer advice. Later, both husband and wife meet up, and continue their arguments. Around their children, they put on the happy face and enjoy life. Alone, they despise the sight of one another; at one point, we see them alone on their anniversary, where they make plans to go out--away from each other. It's a little sad to see commitments like this come to an end, especially in the movies, but the story has all those sentimental trappings to change that. Will this marriage end? Will they stay together? Of course, you already know the answer.

None of this would be possible, however, without the extreme use of dialogue. To envelop the characters in this situation, the script, by Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson, resorts to long and complex conversations between players. None of them are bad, but they are over-stretched by a long shot, and have the same annoying quality to them as those of the British "Fever Pitch." Why do the writers allow their characters to talk like Ross Perot? Perhaps to help hide the contrivance, which is hidden well behind performances, but manages to slip through the cracks and enter the screen every now and then.

For variety, sometimes the parley is screamed instead of spoken. Pfeiffer is especially developed around such a deed; she slurs the words out of her mouth like she's singing backup in a Megadeth concert. In labor, it is understandable that she would want to raise her voice; but when she lashes out during a quiet, comfortable evening at home, we possess skepticism about the whole idea.

Rob Reiner is a fascinating man, whose projects like "The Ghosts Of Mississippi" and "Misery" have won critical acclaim and cinematic recognition. His thought-provoking ordeals go all the way back to the days he was a star on "All In The Family," and was denounced as a "meathead" by his father-in-law, Archie Bunker. Though he was working under the script of Norman Lear, the experience likely taught him a few things about the perception of family values and prejudices. Some of those ideas carry over to "The Story Of Us." The translation, sadly, isn't always effective, and we lose out in the end to some painfully pathetic tear situations. Nonetheless, the movie is an actors' feast, and should satisfy any moviegoer who has waited for Pfeiffer and Willis to find decent roles in equally respectable movies.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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