24 February 2000 | FlickJunkie-2
Everyone's marriage nightmare come true
This is a disturbing, bittersweet romantic comedy about two people who's 15 year marriage is unraveling. Actually, it is more of a romantic tragedy than a comedy. Ben and Katie Jordan (Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer) are two mismatched people in the marriage that never should have been. He is spontaneous, romantic and impulsive, with low frustration tolerance and an explosive hair trigger temper. She is pragmatic, a compulsive perfectionist with unrealistic expectations, and a high need for control. She takes everything personally and never forgives or forgets a slight. They both blame each other for their disappointments. The pattern is clear. He doesn't meet her standards so she snipes, he explodes and then she accuses him of not listening. She then throws up every mistake he's ever made and every fault he's ever had. This goes on ad nauseam as their romantic obsession with one another continues to get the best of any sense they might have to call it quits. Like moths to a flame, they keep returning for another scorching.
This film is thought provoking in that it portrays marital difficulties that are all too familiar in our society. The problem is that it tries to give every problem known to man (with the exception of wife beating) to this couple and relies on the single strand of a long forgotten romance to be the only chance of keeping them together.
In watching the behind the scenes featurette on this film, Rob Reiner and writers Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson discuss how the story evolved. As it turns out, it was a montage of all their own marital problems. So the film was, in essence cathartic dumping ground for the writers and director.
As filmmaking, it was terrific. Rob Reiner weaves the story together expertly, creating a stark contrast between the joy of the romance and the reality of the relationship. The film was punctuated by numerous funny and sweet moments that make the viewer smile and glow with delight.
Michelle Pfeiffer gives a splendid performance of a very emotionally complex and neurotic character. It took a lot of courage for her to take this part because she was playing the least likeable character in the film, something of a departure for her. Bruce Willis was as good as one could have expected considering the fact that nobody was blowing anything up. Actually, he was quite good as the impulsive, childlike romantic, but when it came to the arguments and the serious displays of resentment, he played the scenes too harshly, almost commando style.
Reiner does good camera work and puts together some good rapid fire scenes that have impact and give great insight into the relationship. He also took the film on location in Venice to add a little romantic interlude, and somehow got Eric Clapton to write a great theme song.
The problem is the story. Reiner stated in the featurette that he intended this to be a realistic bittersweet look at the real problems relationships face. But he tried to do too much and made this film a grossly exaggerated caricature of a relationship in crisis. It is really "The War of The Roses" lite only it takes itself too seriously. No one I know who saw this could believe that this couple could possibly have stayed married for 15 weeks, no less 15 years.
The result is a noxious marathon of petty arguments that get under the viewers' skin after a while. It is about as entertaining as watching your best friends have a niggling argument in a public restaurant. The whole thing leaves you very uncomfortable and you don't go home feeling like you've had a nice evening.
So, while it succeeds as filmmaking, it fails as a film. I gave this film a 6/10. There were so many good elements to it that I can't see trashing it. But the story is one that requires a level of emotional endurance that few viewers will be willing or able to invest to get any enjoyment out of it.