Rated R - Running Time: 1:34 - Released 10/15/99

Anyone married for longer than five years can probably relate to The Story Of Us. Anyone who has endured a painful divorce can definitely relate to it. I assume this film, produced and directed by Rob Reiner, is supposed to be a "bittersweet romance," but Reiner didn't concentrate much on the sweet. It's just bitter. This is a portrait of a couple in the throes of divorce, trying to decide at the eleventh hour whether the marriage is worth saving. I'm not one who craves romantic dialogue, but it would be nice to at least have a viable reason why Ben and Katie Jordan (Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer) should stay together. The film focuses on all the worst aspects of marriage; it's miserable and depressing, albeit quite believable, until the last five minutes.

The Story Of Us is mostly a series of flashbacks, a sort of 90-minute montage of marital strife. Ben and Katie, who have just sent their kids (Jake Sandvig and Colleen Rennison) to camp, separate for the summer. She is tired, resentful, and frustrated, and thinks they should call it quits. He thinks they should try again, but admits that things aren't as much fun as they were 15 years ago. She feels he is reckless and irresponsible; he thinks she is a control freak who has lost her spontanaeity. She stays at home, he moves to a hotel, and they both spend a couple of months alone, reliving all the bad times...and a few of the good. They have been living a charade, deceiving the kids into thinking everything's okay, and this weighs upon them. Years of marital counseling has led only to a collection of memories involving their various goofy marriage counselors. Well-meaning advice from their friends (director Reiner, Rita Wilson, Paul Reiser, and Julie Hagerty), including comments like "marriage is the Jack Kevorkian of the relationship," usually just deepens their despair.

The very strange tone of this film is reminiscent of director Reiner's When Harry Met Sally, which couldn't seem to decide whether it was a deep romance or a character-driven comedy. This may be partially explained by the unlikely pairing of writers Alan Zweibel (Dragnet) and Jessie Nelson (Stepmom), who attempt to inject humor into the glum storyline. But much of this humor misses its mark, and some actually seems to backfire, making the mood even more depressing than it is. For instance, there's the obnoxious couple the Jordans meet on a trip to Italy. Besides the fact that "the Kirbys" are so ridiculously stereotyped as to derail the credibility of the scene, their purpose is dubious: The estranged Jordans discover a new common ground in the fact that they both "hate the Kirbys." How incredibly touching.

This film definitely paints a realistic picture of a crumbling marriage. Willis and Pfeiffer hit every point on the emotional scale, although some of the more intense scenes are a little too pushed. Director Reiner has an inventive way of telling the Jordans' story, skipping back and forth from the present to various parts of the past, but Pfeiffer and Willis don't do anything to really show the different stages of their lives except wear a different wig.

The ending is the film's biggest flaw; it is completely out of sync with the rest of the story. If this couple had really been that unhappy for that long, Katie's tearful speech could not have made much of a difference. Reiner and his scriptwriters give us good reason to see why this couple should break up. They give us no reason to see why they should stay together. ***½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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