He Said, She Said (1991) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for nudity, sexuality, and language
Running Time: 115 min.
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Perkins, Nathan Lane, Sharon Stone, Anthony LaPaglia, Stanley Anderson, Leeza Gibbons (cameo), John Tesh (cameo)
Director: Ken Kwapis, Marisa Silver
Screenplay: Brian Hohlfield
Review published January 8, 2007
He Said, She Said is a bit of a high-concept comedy, whereby two different versions of a rocky romance are told successively, from the one-sided perspective of each of the participants. It's an interesting take on the differences in perceptions between men and women, showing how the same events can mean different things to two people who are close to one another. Typically, the men can't see the obvious, while the women read all too much into the most insignificant things, causing a breakdown in the relationship due to the constant frustrations that emerge from the inability to see things from the other's perspective. Although a commercial misfire at the time of its release, I consider this romantic comedy to be one of those hidden gems for genre fans, with an intelligence, insightfulness, and wit that rom-com regulars might readily embrace.
The couple in question in the film are Baltimore journalists Dan Hanson (Bacon, Tremors) and Lorie Bryer (Perkins, Big), who find themselves irreversibly connected after they both write Op-Ed pieces that disagree with one another, sparking a regular debate between them about a variety of issues. The editor of the paper knows a good thing when he sees it, allowing the Hanson/Bryer duel to continue, and the two gain even more notoriety once they begin seeing each other romantically on the side. The public interest in their debates heats up to the point where they have their own television show, although the latest airing ends with Bryer throwing a cup and hitting Hanson square in the head, for reasons that only they seem to be aware of.
He Said, She Said starts off with the "He said" portion of the film, and this version is directed from a male perspective by Ken Kwapis (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Beautician and the Beast), who plays out the romantic aspects similar to the snarky screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, especially the ones in which you'd find men and women in the same occupation, a la His Girl Friday and the best efforts by Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. The competitiveness between the two leads is fun, as is their playful banter on the job and off, never losing the amiable tone even when Dan begins to be overcome with anxiety about the disintegrating relationship that is dying for reasons he can't seem to understand, since, in his mind, things are going so well.
The "She said" portion follows, directed by Marisa Silver (Permanent Record, Vital Signs), going through many of the same scenes, although markedly different in tone. Silver employs a more anguished approach, some might even say it is "chick flick"-y, with an idealized representation of Dan when the times are good, and when times are bad, he is shallow and unresponsive. Although these scenes aren't as funny on their own, they do deliver some genuinely humorous moments when compared to the male perspective of each scene's earlier counterparts, as both Silver and Kwapis capture the essence of the difference between men and women in relationships, and why they can suddenly turn sour when the two lovers can't read just what the other is feeling.
While Bacon and Perkins do fall short of Tracy and Hepburn by no slim margin, they are still likeable in their respective roles, enough to consider them adequate, if not exactly remarkable. The film is also on the long side for a romantic comedy, which wouldn't be too detrimental if not for the fact that most scenes in the last half basically tell the same story as those in the first half, although with differences both obvious and subtle. Whenever you're dealing with a movie with a gimmick, the success or failure of it will primarily depend on the perspective of the viewer, as some will understand and some will not. Even if understood, the fact that the film's main hook (the difference between how men and women will see different events in a relationship) is essentially reiterated over and over may make some people restless for the film to wrap things up once the point is taken. It does overstay its welcome a bit, but at least a certain entertainment level will have already been achieved to justify the time spent.
Despite these lulls, I would wholeheartedly recommend He Said, She Said to fans of the two lead actors, as well as to those who enjoy old-fashioned, lighthearted romantic fare done with care for story and characters, rather than the barrage of embarrassing situations and plot hurdles that modern comedies are filled to the brim with. For all of its better qualities, one does wonder how much better the film could have been if two more prominent, headstrong actors had been cast, and had a good deal of the script's fat been trimmed. Perhaps it would have been a classic romantic comedy of the 1990s, rather than just the quaint diversion that it ends up being.
©2007 Vince Leo