Opening the fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise on Valentine’s Day is a bizarre choice. Maybe the studio realizes only the most loyal fans such as myself would opt to see a film dumped into the dregs of the year. Willis is an reliable action icon, but I also enjoy his departures from his ‘Bruised’ Willis persona. In 1999, he portrayed a neurotic car dealer, one half of a troubled married couple, and a ghost in denial. In honor of V-Day, we’ll be delving deeper into his romantic side.
Ben (Bruce Willis) and Katie (Michelle Pfeiffer) Jordan have been happily married for fifteen years. At least, that’s what they want their kids, Josh (Jake Sandvig) and Erin (Colleen Rennison), to think. Truth be told, they’ve been miserable in their marriage for far too long. After years of unsuccessful therapy and a failed last-ditch romantic getaway, Ben and Katie are separating for the summer while their kids are at camp. Once apart, the two try to remember how they found love and when it was lost.
I’m not sure what it is about The Story of Us, but I’ve always really enjoyed it. Michelle Pfeiffer is wonderful as the weary wife who’s vexed over having a third child instead of a husband. Bruce Willis’ turn as Ben, when taken on the whole, is one of his best. Too bad, their earnest efforts can’t make up for the movie’s noticeable flaws.
The major problem in The Story of Us lies in trying to create comedy from an embittered, failed romance. To be fair, in many instances it’s easy to craft hilarious circumstances; like if the alienated partners are trying to embarrass, one-up, or harm each other repeatedly before realizing their true feelings for one another. However, The Story of Us presents a couple who has drifted apart as they delve into their past and do honest soul searching to find their lost love. There is a fine line to this humor. The arguments may present flippant remarks that’d be a riot if it weren’t for the fact that the film’s also trying to establish sympathetic characters on equal footing.
Trying to achieve this balance with the script from writers Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson is director Rob Reiner. Reiner, who also stars as Ben’s good friend Stan, has several scenes where he attempts to impart marital wisdom while shucking and jiving for the camera. Rita Wilson is Reiner’s counterpart, portraying Stan’s wife Rachel, who delivers her own simultaneously sincere and strained pearls to Katie.
From behind the camera, Reiner recounts the tale of Ben and Katie through the couple’s conversations with their strident friends, their comically-wigged flashbacks, and their fourth-wall-shattering confessions. Reiner keeps the past clipping along; a montage featuring snippets of a decade’s worth of arguments establishes their recurring issues with one another and their on-camera admissions allow the audience a chance to connect with them both.
The second-chance dinner Katie invites Ben to, which devolves into six people in bed is one of the stronger moments capturing both their shared awkwardness, affection, and aggravation. Willis’s best scene comes after an explosive, somewhat preposterous display at a restaurant where he sits on a bench in tears and finally realizes Katie’s issues with him. Other moments, like that restaurant explosion, or a flashback to an interrupted sexual escapade, are ones where the humor steps on the toes of their passionate emotions.
The clumsiness The Story of Us encounters when walking the line between humor and heartfelt helps more than hurts. Throughout their story, Ben and Katie rely on a game of High-Low to talk about the highs and lows of their day. I’ve found despite its many lows, The Story of Us delivers enough highs to make it worth the watch.