The Story of Us
directed by Rob Reiner
(Universal, 1999)

There are some films that just make you want to run out of the theater screaming, throwing up your arms and bewailing the fact that such a horrible script ever got the green light in the first place. Such a movie is The Story of Us, which opened this past weekend.

The previews make the film look like a warm and knowing examination of a contemporary marriage. There are several montages of the past relationship -- the wedding, getting settled with each other, kids being born, kids getting older -- but in the movie we quickly find that these scenes, which we expected to see in more detail, are only montages in the actual film, and used as its climax. Yep, that's right -- they've just shown us the ending of the movie in the previews!

And it's a good thing they did, because otherwise there'd be nothing to show in the previews to draw in the suckers, of which my wife and I numbered two. Believe me, it's not the case of a nasty old male reviewer disliking a chick flick, since Laurie disliked it as much as I did. The problem is primarily the script, which would have fared much better as a Lifetime Network TV movie with Scott Bakula and Farah Fawcett than wasting the talents of Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Rob Reiner, the director, has to take a lot of the blame.

The characters are cliches: tiresome, whiny, self-centered upper-middle class muppies. We never know what makes them tick, what drew them apart, or why we should cheer for them to get back together, which of course they do. (Oh, come on, it's not like you didn't know!) There are the usual references to dominating parents, busy lifestyles, differing points of view (he's the free, unstructured, undisciplined type; she's the opposite). The lines sound as though they were written by TV comedy writers on an off day. There's more predictable shtick here than you could shake a shtick at, and predictable is the operative word. At one point, when Willis's character is typing on the screen, I predicted what the next word would be -- and that word was "Lithuanian."

It doesn't help that the movie is endless. Scenes drone on and on, and the only thing to keep you awake is playing write-the-dialogue-before-they-say-it, or predict-what-happens-next. (Ooo -- Michelle's handsome, divorced dentist meets her just after she's separated from Bruce. Gosh, what will happen now?) In dreary scene after scene, they fight, they make up, they fight again, they go to Venice and meet some funny American tourists, they go to funny therapists who talk with lisps, have California-shaped birthmarks on their foreheads, or have prostate problems that make them leave the room every minute; they imagine their parents in bed with them, commenting on their lives -- well, you get the idea.

By the final scene, when Michelle finally breaks down and begs Bruce to stay and keep the family together in a scene that hearkens back to vintage Laura Petrie "Ohhh Roooobbbbb," while the two kids sit in the SUV with the windows open, apparently oblivious to Mom's histrionics, the disbelief level reaches an all-time high. There. That's the ending. I've spoiled it for you completely. So save your money and your time and go see American Beauty again, a movie that also looks at the disintegration of a marriage, but happens to use real people, real dialogue, and a great script. Oh yeah, and which my wife also loved.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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