Reiner's marriage on the rocks 'Story' obliging but pathetically predictable
Unlike any real-life marriage -- especially a marriage on the rocks -- "The Story of Us" is 100-percent predictable.
Rob Reiner's new romantic dramedy about a married couple's 15-year itch, this "Story" is so faithful to formula that there are moments (several of them, in fact) at which any seasoned movie-goer could shout out what's going to happen next and be right every time.
Fade in. Wife and mom Michelle Pfeiffer has soap suds on her hand and in her hair as her washing machine overflows with sloshing water and bubbles. What comes next?
Right. Cue the fighting kids chasing each other through the room. "Mmmoooomm! Josh took my (fill in the blank)!"
Now cue the ringing phone as the washer starts shaking and the kids start yanking on sleeves.
I can't remember if there was a dog underfoot, but you get the idea. Instant generic homemaker stress. By the way, has anyone ever seen a washing machine overflow in real life? Didn't think so.
On the phone was husband and father Bruce Willis -- back to real acting now that younger men with martial arts skills have taken over the action genre -- and Pfeiffer's hasty hang-up becomes just one more bone of contention in the rapidly unraveling relationship inventoried by this hodge-podge of warmed-over matrimony moments assembled from the table scraps of a thousand other movies.
Hallmark card montage sequences come with mathematical regularity since "The Story of Us" has to cram a decade and a half of courtin', marriage, mortgage and kids into 92 minutes. You got your chicken pox, you got your summer camp farewells, you got your tooth fairy.
Since the movie purports to be about a couple weathering a rough patch, you also have your marriage counselors, your romantic moments spoiled by petty grievances, your horrible arguments that stretch the ol' acting muscles, and your fraudulent happy faces for the kids (who, of course, aren't fooled in the slightest).
Oh, I almost forgot the Other Man (Tim Matheson) who romances Michelle during the inevitable trial separation and just happens to be at her house, preparing a romantic dinner, when Bruce stops by to try to patch things up.
As obvious and predictable as his movie is, Reiner knows how to make an audience-pleaser and does a fine job of editing this patchwork of montages and life cliches into a lively, obliging, manipulative but affecting, happy ending kind of picture.
With the characters' camera-addressing confessionals and a running commentary from each camp's yuppie roundtable of wise-cracking pals (Reiner and Paul Reiser on the one hand, Rita Wilson and Julie Hagerty on the other), "The Story of Us" could be seen as an in-spirit sequel to the ultimate this generation's definitive romantic comedy, Reiner's own "When Harry Met Sally."
There is some good stuff here -- moments of joy and sadness that sweep you right along, surprisingly astute dime-store insights into couplehood and quite a few good laughs. Plus, Pfeiffer and Willis are entirely believable in this marriage and have some very effective moments in which body language says more than clumsy, expository dialogue ever could.
The first inkling we get that their relationship is in trouble comes after a dinner scene in which the whole family shares the highs and lows of their days. But when the kids vacate table, instantly the temperature in the room drops about 20 degrees. Brrr! These two are not happy behind the veneer they put on for their children!
But ultimately Bruce and Michelle are never more than one emotional catharsis away from reconciliation, so the outcome of "The Story of Us" is never in question. With its unwaveringly uncreative, predetermined and recycled plot advancement, it's as if the script came as a part of some prefabricated Instant Movie Kit labeled "just add actors."