Who could have imagined that falling in love could be so…boring?
Falling in Love stars two outstanding actors in Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. However, the two are woefully miscast, the script is terrible, and the result is a mind-numbingly boring mess.
Facts of the Case
Frank Raftis (Robert De Niro—The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Untouchables) is happily married with two kids. Molly Gilmore (Meryl Streep—The Bridges of Madison County, Out of Africa, Silkwood) is only slightly less happily married, with no children after at least one unsuccessful pregnancy. The two meet by chance one Christmas Eve as they are doing their last-minute shopping. They are both overloaded with very similar bags, and they collide with one another. No points for guessing what happens in the confusion.
After Christmas, they meet in another random encounter, this time in a subway station. They exchange pleasantries, laugh about the switched packages, and wish each other well. Instead of leaving it at that, as any sane people would have done, they feel a mystical attraction and return to the station looking for each other.
Thus begins one of the least eventful affairs ever captured on film. They have coffee together—two whole cups! They have an occasional lunch together. They continue to ride the same subway train together. All of these activities are full of painfully pregnant pauses and swelling music to let us know that yes, something is happening between them. At about the point where most normal people would be getting to know each other and perhaps becoming friends they decide out of the blue that they are in love and must Do Something About It™.
This is particularly disturbing because neither one's spouse has done anything to drive either of them away. Frank's wife Ann (Jane Kaczmarek—Malcolm in the Middle) in particular is a lovely woman, a loving wife and mother, and frankly a lot more interesting and attractive than the bland, insecure Molly.
In the midst of all this, Molly is dealing with her father's terminal illness, which is mostly a manipulative ploy by the screenwriter to get us to identify with her at least a tiny bit. He dies in a predictably manipulative fashion at exactly the wrong moment: just as Frank and Molly are non-consummating their non-affair.
As all screen romances must, Frank and Molly go through a series of trials and tribulations through the course of the movie. Will they be together? Should they be together? Is it fate or just their imaginations? All of these timeless questions get answered, eventually, to no one's satisfaction.
Let's just get one thing straight at the outset: Robert De Niro is something of an acting god. However, he is not a romantic lead and should never have been cast as such. He is an actor that thrives on conflict and anguish, not sweetness and light. His other, better performances have created a certain expectation for any character he plays. Because of this, when I first saw him on screen, I had the uncontrollable sense that he was suddenly going to undergo a radical change in demeanor and lash out violently at someone. After awhile, I was wishing that he would. Meryl Streep fares little better, underplaying an already underwritten role. The character of Molly as written is completely uninteresting and dull. Streep doesn't help much and brings nothing of her own to the role. Beyond the basic unsuitability of each of the leads to this movie, they never manage to generate any chemistry on the screen. Watching the two of them kiss, or worse yet make out, is probably the most singularly unappealing display of affection I've ever seen in the movies.
Still, neither performance is as much to blame for the ultimate failure of this movie as Michael Cristofer, the guy who wrote the script. We as an audience are given nothing to work with emotionally, and as a result, the attraction between De Niro and Streep never really resonates. We never get the sense that these characters are real people with real emotions. Instead, they seem to be purely creatures of the plot, automatons carrying out their instructions in order to keep the rest of the machinery moving. There is a childish quality to their relationship, as though it were crafted by a bright fourth grader whose sole understanding of adult relationships comes from half-understood bits of soap operas and sitcoms. It is a collection of moldering clichés; we know this from the first moments of the movie where we see the two leads having simultaneous and eerily similar conversations on two adjacent pay phones. Later on, we see Molly preparing for a rendezvous with Frank, and she goes through her entire wardrobe to find something to wear; not because she needs to pick out an outfit, but because this scene is required in this kind of movie. This is a movie where Molly actually says, "He's my last thought when I fall asleep and first thought when I wake up." By the time we reach the big climax of the movie, the script has done exactly the opposite of what the writer apparently intended. Molly is racing through dark streets to see Frank one last time before he leaves town. We feel some tension all right, but it's because we hope Frank will get away clean and these two will never see each other again.
Paramount has packaged Falling in Love in their standard no-frills fashion. The video is presented in the movie's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in an anamorphic widescreen transfer. The transfer quality is a mixed bag. There is quite a lot of film grain present. Through most of the movie, the picture is a bit too soft, giving the proceedings a sort of gauzy look and stealing away a lot of lifelike detail. Blacks are solid and fully saturated—maybe a bit too well saturated, since the picture is noticeably dark for most of the running time, giving a slightly dirty, oily look. Shadow detail varies quite a bit; some scenes are excellent, while others are murky. Color saturation on this disc is all over the map. A lot of the movie looks like it was shot with some sort of blue filter, leaving colors muted and a bit washed out. Still, there are scenes where colors are strong and vibrant, perhaps even oversaturated. For example, there is a sidewalk Santa early in Chapter 1; the red of his suit is so bright that it looks a bit like hot magenta rather than simple red. I saw some examples of bad aliasing issues. Edge enhancement appears to be used inconsistently throughout the movie. In some scenes, it was not noticed, and in others it was distractingly apparent and emphasized things that don't need much help, like Streep's nose in profile shots.
Audio is presented in mono format only. It sounds quite good for a mono track, with no sign of hiss or other distortion and a pleasant balance between music, sound effects, and dialogue. As is the case with most mono tracks it leaves a lot to be desired in the lower register, but overall it is about as good as one can expect from mono audio.
This being a Paramount disc, there are no extra features, unless you count full-color artwork on the disc. Yippee.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
De Niro excels at playing tortured, conflicted characters on the raw edge of their emotions. He never really gets the chance to show his best stuff here until about 80 minutes into the 106 minute running time. De Niro's (and the movie's) best scenes come late in the film, as Frank confesses to his wife about the affair and faces the choices that lie ahead of him. Kaczmarek is excellent in these scenes as well, making us feel the anguish of the faithful wife who does not understand what has happened to her marriage. The scenes between them, as well as a scene where Frank visits his sons' bedroom in the middle of the night, are the only truly resonant moments in the entire picture. Seeing Frank as a man torn between what he has to lose and what he thinks he might gain, we realize that the focus of the movie has been wrong all along. The story of Frank and Ann would ultimately have been far more interesting and compelling than what we are actually left with. Unfortunately, the movie does in fact concentrate on Frank and Molly, and we are left with a syrupy mess.
There might have been an opportunity to gain some insight into Streep's character had someone thought to include a similar scene between Molly and her husband Brian. However, no such scene is included, and we only find out second hand through some oblique dialogue that Brian knows about the abortive affair between Frank and Molly. Someone was asleep at the switch when this decision was made.
It took me no less than four tries to get through this movie without falling asleep. Fortunately, as I was striving to watch the movie and complete this review, the Schwans man arrived to fortify me with egg rolls and other fine frozen foods. Thus sustained, I was able to complete my trek through this cinematic wasteland. Unless you have similar access to convenient home-delivered provisions, stay as far away from Falling in Love as you possibly can. The simple fact here is that this is a movie that goes nowhere, does nothing, and creates no emotional resonance. It is boring as heck and seems far longer than its scant 106 minute running time.
Guilty all around! Lock 'em up.
We stand adjourned.
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