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THE STORY OF US

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson
Director:  Rob Reiner
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  96 Minutes
Release Date:  February 15, 2000

Film ½*

Rob Reiner has made two romantic comedies that I personally cherish:  The Sure Thing and When Harry Met Sally.  After sitting through The Story of Us, that is the only compliment I am going to afford him in this review.

The Story of Us is one of those films that’s so excruciatingly bad, so torturously misguided and mishandled, you can’t help fantasizing about clawing your fingers into your skull so that your brain can go free.  It’s disguised partially as a romantic comedy and partly as a serious examination of the course of a lengthy marriage.  It is neither.  It is simply two of Hollywood’s biggest stars trapped into screaming at each other for long periods at a time, with no believable motivation or justification.  We’re supposed to feel their pain and care for them, but frankly, I hated them both and wanted to see the damn relationship end so that both they and I could get on with our lives.

In more ways than one, the structure of the film mimics Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, a film I recently viewed again for the hundredth time.  It fails in every way conceivable.  It may copy the idea of the story of an ending relationship told mostly in flashback form, but neither Reiner nor his writers have any clue how to assemble them into anything coherent, or in ways where the scenes play off of each other in humor or irony.  Mostly you go from some cute moment to some moment where they’re tearing each other’s heads off.

Both Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer seem completely lost in this material, and as far as their believability as a couple, frankly, I’ve seen more on screen chemistry in National Geographic specials.  They seem uncomfortable in every scene, and it doesn’t help that the writing is so bad, covering every cliché from why can’t men do the right thing with a roll of toilet paper to the arguments that always begin with somebody saying, “What do you mean by that?”

The problem is, nobody in this film seems to understand subtlety.  More often than not, long marriages that break up are the result of a lengthy, residual, growing apart…they end not with a bang, but with a whimper.  We’re supposed to believe that this couple just screams and curses.  We never really understand what their problems are…the film doesn’t explore them in any kind of satisfying manner, preferring to go for the over the top scenes, including two sequences in posh restaurants where we’re supposed to believe grown intelligent people will start loudly making scenes filled with gratuitous sex talk and profanity. 

This couple has one of the worst “meet cutes” I’ve ever seen.  They sit across from each other, typing.  He throws things at her.  She responds by putting on a pith helmet with a flashing red light.  They smile.  Please.

That’s how the relationship begins.  How it ends, I won’t give away, except if you thought what you’d sat through up to that point was ridiculous, you haven’t seen anything yet.  One of the biggest mistakes was a sudden montage of flashbacks near the end, which rapidly cover the important parts of their relationship.  The crucial moments.  It bewilders and angers, because it really makes you realize how much meaningless garbage you’ve just sat through.  Then comes the real finale, which serves to finish robbing the picture of any shred of dignity, integrity or intelligence it might have dared hope for.  Be warned…maximum cringe factor.

The bottom line:  there is no new territory to be cultivated in the genre of romantic films.  Zero, zip, nada.  We’ve seen it all before.  If you want to make one, at least make it entertaining.  Make it funny.  Make it touching.  Make it honest, or make it a complete fantasy.  Make it about people we actually care enough about to want to see together by the end credits.  The Story of Us is none of these things, and so much less.

Video ***1/2

Universal offers a terrific anamorphic transfer here.  Colors are well defined and plentiful, and look natural throughout, even in some hot California sunlight scenes, and images are generally very sharp and crisply detailed throughout, with only one or two moments of slight softening.  There is no grain or compression evident in this transfer, and the print itself is quite clean. 

Audio **

The 5.1 soundtrack gets a bit loud from time to time with all the shouting, so if your idea of a good listening experience is hearing your parents argue in the next room, this disc is for you.  There's not a whole lot of use of the surrounds or the subwoofer.  In fact, the best aspect of the soundtrack is Eric Clapton's beautiful guitar music.

Features ***

The disc contains a Rob Reiner commentary track, a trailer, a spotlight on location featurette, cast and crew info, production notes and a few DVD ROM extras.

Summary:

The Story of Us is a painful, excruciating waste of talent.  Don’t even bother.