This pathetic cinematic attempt stole a few ideas from the 1945 black and white classic Brief Encounter, but believe me, this is no Brief Encounter. The only similarities are the trains and the unconsummated affair between two people married to others.
The story revolves around two married, fairly affluent suburbanites, Frank and Molly, who meet in a New York bookshop while Christmas shopping, and later encounter each other on a commuter train, first by accident, then (as their mutual attraction grows) by design. Frank has two small boys, and Molly has lost a baby girl a year or two earlier. They then proceed very ploddingly and boringly to fall in love.
The movie does get off to a promising start, with the festive, bustling New York Christmas atmosphere. I had great expectations, considering these two stars. Neither Robert DeNiro nor Meryl Streep should have stooped to the level of this dull drivel, though they probably did the best they could with what they have here...a plodding plot, unsympathetic characters, and the poorest dialogue in cinematic history.
The screenplay has not a single original phrase and could have been written by a middle school student. There is a fair bit of mindless profanity of the 'O, my G--' type, always easy to write. I note that at least one famous critic lamented the poor script, so I am not alone. Poor Molly literally can't get through an entire sentence without stumbling and stammering. I had enough of this verbal bumbling about after 15 minutes, and after two hours was practically frothing at the mouth. If the point is that forbidden attraction is making Molly tongue tied like a schoolgirl, that might work for the first couple of encounters but not indefinitely.
The pair seem juvenile and absurd when trying to physically groom to attract the other. When Frank asks his friend whether he's good looking, I could hardly keep from laughing. Molly fares little better while trying on a number of outfits to determine which will prove most attractive for her new man. Also, they both come off as immature teenagers chit chatting to their best friends about their new love interests. This fails miserably as an endearing indication that they feel young and fresh, falling in love like a couple of school kids.
My sympathies lie with the harmless and hapless spouses. These marriages may not be that exciting but don't seem troubled, making sympathy unlikely for these would be adulterers. Molly's husband, Brian, is a quiet physician, occasionally off in his own world dealing with the distressing patient losses he must face in his career. However, he's very kind and supportive of his wife when she has her hysterical tizzy fit at her father's grave side, caused by anguish over the affair rather than grief for her dad. Who can blame him when he lies on the phone to Frank in the hopes of discouraging the lover? Frank's wife, Ann, is a pretty and apparently loving brunette, a wholesome gardening type and devoted mother. I felt like slapping Frank virtually throughout the movie. Happily, Ann DOES slap him across the face when she realizes his love for another!
No, Frank & Molly do not have sex but the affair is just too dreary for it to make any difference. The pair do make it to the bed, but Molly puts the brakes on. Now if FRANK had put the brakes on, that might have been a bit more original.
These two characters are neither interesting nor sympathetic. Affairs are only of interest when guilt is present, some sense of inner conflict to add interest to the character. Sadly, there is little guilt here other than a smidgen in Molly. Frank indicates no regard at all for either his wife or his two charming young sons.
Worst of all, we have the uninspiring message that it's just dandy to break up two homes (one with children) as a result of being attracted to someone else. The pair get together in the end, the spouses conveniently gotten out of the picture in predictable, uninteresting ways. Ann goes home to her mother, and Molly apparently leaves Brian (or vice versa). Really, difficult as it is to believe with these two talented actors, this movie has little to recommend it. It's not a case of adultery but sheer unadulterated boredom.Instead of this disgusting drivel, treat yourself to Brief Encounter, the genuine article and a true classic.