The Story of Us

Nashville Scene


REVIEWED: 10-25-99

Hate fades. That insight is the sole moment of reality and clarity in The Story of Us, a marital discord comedy that otherwise is shallow as a button. The line is spoken by the film's director, Rob Reiner, who also plays the best friend of the film's star, Bruce Willis, a comedy writer undergoing a trial separation from his wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. The estranged couple is locked in a never-ending argument about whose job it is to make the marriage work, and Willis' frustration with Pfeiffer's unwillingness to let the argument go leads him to tell Reiner that his love has turned to hate. Reiner in turn cautions him that while love often fades, hate also fades. So be careful.

The Story of Us tries to build on the idea that fleeting emotions can't be trusted when a relationship is at stake. But the sentiment, though true, is hamstrung by Reiner and screenwriters Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson. The story is heavily weighted to Willis' side, so that his character comes off looking like a fun-loving guy saddled with an uptight, bitchy wife. The film seems to imply that all the couple's problems would be solved if Pfeiffer would just put out more often (which says more about the filmmakers than the marriage).

But what's unbearable about The Story of Us is the dialogue, which must have been generated by a roomful of bitter, unsuccessful stand-up comics. A character can't just have a book on Thai cooking; it has to be The Wokky World of Thai Cooking. When Willis goes looking for a new home--and settles on a fabulous villa, because the characters we're supposed to identify with in movies are always stinking rich--the real-estate agent points out an obscure acting credit for all of his new neighbors (e.g., "He did the voice of Charlie the Tuna"). The film's lowest point has family friends played by Paul Reiser and Rita Wilson launching into interminable, unfunny, unoriginal monologues about computer porn and toilet paper.

The Story of Us ends with a big reconciliation speech by Pfeiffer that, although ridiculously written, is actually moving. That's because Pfeiffer is allowed to be human for a few minutes, and the actress seizes the opportunity--she sells the audience on the virtues of sticking it out. Then the film fades. There's a message of hope in that for all of us.

--Noel Murray

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The Story of Us

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The Story of Us
The Story of Us

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