Universal // 1999 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // March 7th, 2000
Can a marriage survive 15 years of marriage?
As the charge states, this film is about the problems inherent in just trying to stay married to the same person. When a couple reaches the point where they finish each other's sentences, and each other's thoughts, one of two results can happen. They can grow into a sense of comfortability with each other, or they can start to let every little thing grate. This couple is both decent people, and love their children, but have gone the latter route. They snipe at each other and always take the worst interpretation of even the most innocuous remark. Unfortunately about 90% of the movie is filled with such vituperate sniping. What was marketed as a love story is in reality a very dark look at the day-to-day grind of people who have forgotten what brought them together. Universal does another adequate but unremarkable job of transferring the film to DVD, but doesn't hold out on the extras.
The film is really centered on the domestic strife of Ben and Katie Jordan, played by Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer is certainly no stranger to romantic venues, and did a very nice job in One Fine Day. Certainly she is nice to look at, though you get a better look in her role as Catwoman in Batman Returns. Bruce Willis of course was better known for his action flicks, the Die Hard series, but certainly has made his move into the dramatic arena with The Sixth Sense. So here are two attractive and talented actors, yet you can't like either of them much. Most of the scenes where they show themselves to be people you'd like to know are shown in flashback or when they are backbiting the other with their friends. The scenes when they are apart with their friends usually work well, and are the sole comedic part of what is billed as a romantic comedy. Paul Reiser and Rob Reiner, who also directed the film, work as the friends and commiserates of Willis, while Julie Hagerty and Rita Wilson put in good performances as the foils for Pfeiffer. Certainly the scenes where the couple gets past their mean streaks and show some virtue is in the scenes with their children. They give a great performance of a couple striving to put their best face on for their children, who are well played by Jake Sandvig and Colleen Rennison.
The film wanders through these days when it seems sure the marriage is doomed. Every attempt at civility and caring is met or punctuated by more sniping and needless argument. The nature of break-ups is fairly depicted when you see a lonely man and a woman who is quickly being circled by another male vulture trying to grab up the lady before the marriage is even cold, played by Tim Matheson (Arlington Road). This flirtation with an affair shows Katie again becoming happy and herself, which shows another factor in breakups: that the new and exciting is always easier to deal with than the old and boring of the older relationship. It is always easier to look at the best parts of a new attraction and compare it to the worst facets of one's spouse.
As I wrote above, Universal does an adequate job with the disc. The anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is pretty good, but some overenhancement and shimmer mar it. Shadow detail isn't the best during the night and dark interior scenes. None of it was very distracting, and a very high bit rate prevents other artifact problems.
This disc contains both a Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtrack. Except for the song by Eric Clapton and the derivative score, these efforts are largely wasted though. There is no real difference between them I could discern, and the film is largely dialogue driven anyway. There are a few subtle uses of surround, but this is basically a center driven soundtrack, and dialogue remains clear and intelligible. Both tracks are very nice, it's just the film doesn't demand much of them.
There is a decent smattering of extras on the disc. The 20-minute documentary "Spotlight on Location" shows director Rob Reiner and the cast and crew discussing the making of the film and why it was made. I'll leave my opinion on the latter for the next section. Production notes, cast and crew bios and filmographies, the trailer, and director's commentary are also included, along with some DVD-ROM content.
Normally with all the extras on this disc I'd be crowing about it. I certainly wouldn't put a director's commentary track last without comment. But Reiner's monotone commentary, with some long pauses within, is hard to listen to. Neither it nor the documentary convince me that this film needed to be made at all, despite making the attempt.
For that is the main problem here; the film itself. The idea that we needed to really explore the day to day fighting of a couple who won't show any restraint or love sounds educational, but isn't the way most of us want to spend our day. It seems more suited to being shown in marriage seminars than a cinemaplex. Maybe couples in trouble could get a glimpse of how silly they look by watching it. For the rest of us, it gives the feeling of being trapped at a bad dinner gathering where the other couple fights all the way through it.
Another problem is I found the main two characters just irritating. Perhaps it is my status of divorced male talking, but I found Pfieffer's character stuck up and demanding, and all too willing to embrace the attentions of another before a divorce was even drawn up. Before I sound like I'm taking sides, Willis' character was also one I could not sympathize with. Only at the end did either character become humanized, and it was too late for the film's success.
Lastly, a horrible directorial choice by Rob Reiner has the characters occasionally talking to the camera, dropping us out of any sense of immersion and making you think you're watching a Hollywood interview show. The film needed that immersion for us to have any chance to care about the characters, which I didn't.
A depressing movie, only the most stalwart can get through to the end which does liven it up somewhat. Though it was as emotionally taxing as When a Man Loves a Woman, it didn't give us the feeling that both people really wanted things to work out. No feeling of growth such as with the characters of that other film is given. Some may disagree, and if you've seen the film and like it, then the disc warrants purchase. For anyone else, either rent it or better yet, spend some time with your loved ones and say nice things about them; you'll get more out of your evening.
Based solely on his other, better body of work, Rob Reiner (Primary Colors, Sleepless in Seattle, This is Spinal Tap) is released on his own recognizance. The actors are similarly released, on the condition that their next films have more to recommend them. Universal gets high marks for the disc content, especially the dual 5.1 soundtracks, but needs a bit more work on their video transfers.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Cast and Crew Bios
* Production Notes