Stars: Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson, Julie Hagerty
Director: Rob Reiner
“The Story of Us” is an emotional roller coaster ride through the lives of a couple married fifteen years and now on the verge of a nuclear meltdown. Although clocked in at 1 hour 37 minutes, the film seemed a lot longer, not because it’s boring, but because by the time it was over, I felt I had lived through their lives and, very frankly, I was exhausted by it.
Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer play Ben and Katie Jordan whose marriage has reached the lowest point in its history and when their kids go off to summer camp, they separate. He’s a writer and she constructs crossword puzzles between managing the household and the kids.
Ben awkwardly and even unwillingly moves to a hotel while Katie stays safely on in the house. Katie wants to make a clean break of it but Ben lingers – the repeated phone calls to her despite nothing much to say, indicate that Ben feels, despite all the screaming, that there’s a chance to work things out or at least, it’s his job to try.
After he’s been away for two weeks, he gets a quasi-invitation to dinner with Katie at the house. It begins well and ends badly and the fights start all over again. Love is there but life has clearly gotten in the way and their idyllic past means absolutely nothing now. All they do is maintain a strong front for the children’s sake even going up to visit them on parent’s day, all smiles and happiness. Of course the kids aren’t that stupid, at least not 10 year old Erin who realizes that something is wrong. But this is not a story about the kids – just Ben and Katie and how two people who once loved each other so much have come to hate.
It’s painful to watch because a lot of it rings true in relationships – being pulled in a dozen different directions with jobs, responsibilities, the kids. Finally, they find they can’t spring back to their love and it’s pretty much over.
Their friends Stan and Rachel (Rob Reiner who directed and Rita Wilson) are there as some kind of moral support, but in actuality lend themselves to the comic relief in the movie. There’s one inane luncheon discussion among Katie, Rachel and another friend Liza (Julie Hagerty) that centers around sex – I don’t know why male writers always think women of all ages just sit around and talk about sex all the time, but this conversation made little sense except to remind Katie, as if she needed any reminding that her sexual life with Ben was down the drain like everything else. Julie Hagerty does “confused airhead” very well but it’s a throwaway of a scene for her because she never appears again.
A similar luncheon meeting among the males included Ben, Stan and Dave (Paul Reiser) but it centered around what constitutes cheating on one’s wife which allows for the revelation that Ben “cheated” on Katie by discussing his private life with a female friend and whatever else he may or may not have been doing with that friend. I think Reiner placed himself in the movie in order to save money by not hiring a real actor; Reiner needs to stay behind the camera. And I didn’t get the character of Dave who comes across like a buddy at the luncheon scene then shows up as Ben’s publisher in another. It didn’t quite mesh.
The film uses monologues directly into the camera as well as voice overs and moves smoothly between flashbacks and the present to delve into Katie and Ben’s lives. This is the kind of film that grows on you as you come to know the characters better. Pfeiffer and Willis are quite good and I especially liked seeing Willis in his second straight dramatic role (after The Sixth Sense) this season.
Lotta says: I liked the film; found it exhausting; contemplated their problems; reflected on my own. In other words it made me think. That’s a good sign. I just hope I can stop humming that lousy Eric Clapton theme song they kept playing throughout the film. It’s really starting to annoy me.