The Story of Us (1999) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and brief sexuality
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tim Matheson, Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: Alan Zweibel, Jessie Nelson
Review published October 25, 1999
Here's a sure rule of thumb for film criticism: If Betty White (Lake Placid) is in it, it must be bad.
After 15 years of ups and down in their marriage, Ben (Willis, The Sixth Sense) and Katie Jordan (Pfeiffer, The Prince of Egypt) find that their love for each other may have finally run out for good. They struggle with the decision on telling their kids, second guessing their decision all along. Is the marriage really over or just a low phase?
The Story of Us is just like the marriage depicted in the movie: It starts out promising but quickly becomes uneven and gets progressively worse until ultimately viewers may wish to become separated from their chairs and go do something more productive. The problems with what went wrong are multitudinous, but blame for this misfire must ultimately rest on the shoulders on the person who is usually the most talented of anyone involved here, Rob Reiner (The American President, A Few Good Men).
Starting out with the casting of the film, Willis and Pfeiffer not only have no chemistry together, but no depth to be able to carry their respective roles successfully. Willis is more comfortable in the funnier scenes, but struggles severely with those that involve breaking down or moments of serious intimacy. On the flip side, Pfeiffer is fine in the film's serious moments but can't handle the comedic aspects with any authenticity. Consequently, when the two are together, either one or the other stink up the action which leaves the film with one uneven moment after another. They aren't the only bad thespians in the film, as almost every supporting role is miscast, with Reiner and Wilson (Runaway Bride) particularly bad as the best friends.
The screenplay is chockfull of insight, but is so fitfully contrived that every insightful observation is presented with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Woody Allen may have been able to pull off this screenplay where everybody makes brilliant observations seemingly off the cuff, but Reiner just doesn't have the actors necessary to achieve momentum. Hiccups of inspiration appear every once in a while, but are drowned in a sea of overwritten dialogue and underdeveloped ideas. In Reiner's whole career he has made only two bad films, and both of them were written by Alan Zweibel (North and The Story of Us). Like Ben and Katie in the film, perhaps Reiner and Zweibel should come to the conclusion that it just isn't working out and get a divorce.
©1999 Vince Leo