|Story of Us, The|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 15 February 2000|
‘The Story of Us’ comes conditionally recommended overall, and particularly as a DVD. if yuppie romantic comedy/drama is not something you tolerate well, you may not want to read any further, let alone watch the film. Yes, the DVD comes with a DTS option, but even at its most intricate, ‘Story’ is not real reference-disk material. If, however, you are not opposed to the genre or actively enjoy this sort of fare, ‘Story’ emerges as a decent of dialogue-dependent representative of its kind.
Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer star as, respectively, Ben and Katie, on the brink of separation after 15 years of marriage and parenthood. The film intersperses their present-day estrangement with flashbacks to the past, showing how the couple fell in love, then got on each other’s nerves.
‘The Story of Us’ is primarily verbal and cerebral. Director Rob Reiner, his design team and the cast have fun playing with changing styles throughout the periods covered in the flashbacks, but there is little physical slapstick. A bit of eroticism is achieved with a lovemaking sequence atop the kitchen table, but this is more due to the inherent allure of Pfeiffer (stunning as usual) than staging or cinematic technique.
Chapter 1 introduces an appealing, if borderline overly mellow, theme from Eric Clapton that marries folk and calypso in its acoustic guitar instrumentation and comments on the central emotional tone in the lyrics. The chords and individual plucks and fingerings resonate on the soundtrack, providing a pleasant backdrop for much of what follows. There’s also nice use of the Pointer Sisters’ "I’m So Excited" in the background of Chapter 3 as Ben and Katie begin their courtship. Chapter 4 has perhaps the most complicated mix in the film, with a wrecking ball smashing through a building, revving construction equipment motors, a renegade washing machine spewing suds, walls falling and much verbal cacaphony. This perhaps sounds more aurally intriguing than it is. The effect of the sequence is more chaotic than realistic, with the audience invited all too ardently to empathize with the characters’ wish for the ordeal to end. Chapter 12 features some gorgeous golden lighting in a Venice vacation montage that is visually appealing but no asset to the overall pace of the film.
The script by Alan Zweibel & Jessie Nelson has some witty observations and the dialogue sounds like the sort of banter that actually zips between people in the characters’ socio-economic bracket. Chapter 10 has a hilarious speech, delivered by Paul Reiser, about why most people find life too short to put up with boring "entertainment." (Again, if this genre is not your thing, and you somehow find yourself watching this scene anyway, your response may well be, "Amen!")
In trying to get at some universal truths about marriages, though, the filmmakers examine the relationship to the exclusion of factors that tend to affect real-world couples. While we see both Ben and Katie separately laboring away at their computer keyboards (he’s a comedy writer, she constructs newspaper crossword puzzles for a living), we don’t get a sense of how important/trivial their work is in their lives and money isn’t an issue. This puts the duo and their problems at a slight remove from reality as experienced by most of the audience.
Willis takes Ben seriously and plays him with likable restraint that’s extremely effective in scenes in which the character is trying to contain hurt and rage. Pfeiffer adeptly gives us the warm vulnerability Katie feels inwardly and the icy rage she often projects toward her husband. When she isn’t pushing Ben away in anger – or, better still, is actively courting him – it is immediately clear why he keeps coming back for more. Preiffer does have one unfortunate climactic crying scene, but this is as much the fault of script, direction and makeup as performance; she’s sobbing her heart out, but her face has only a few tears and no trace of a runny nose.
The DVD comes with a "making of" short and audio commentary by director Reiner. The commentary track features unusually long pauses in which the regular audio plays at full volume; Reiner only speaks up when he has something to say, generally expressing laudable if unsurprising enthusiasm for the professionalism and skill of his co-workers. (He does have a story that should please Clapton fans.)
‘The Story of Us’ is unchallenging but diverting. It’s physically attractive, well-played by personable leads and, although it is often glib, once in awhile it has something insightful to say about the nature of long-term, intimate associations.