The Story of Us, starring Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Rob Reiner, is the latest Hollywood cookie from the men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus cutter. It received mixed reviews, quickly tanked at the box office, and wasn't even released on video in time for Valentine's Day. That's unfortunate, because The Story of Us, despite its R rating, contains some wonderful lessons.
Over lunch, Katie and her two girlfriends gossip about marital infidelity. Across town, Ben is eating with two buddies. His agent (played by Mad About You's Paul Reiser) gushes with adolescent excitement about his cybersex partner: his fling with her, he insists, is not adultery, but harmless play. Society needs to loosen up. "The Ten Commandments were easier to stick to when you dropped dead at 35," he says.
But The Story of Us should not be dismissed out of hand. For all its oversimplifications of male-female differences, it comes closer than most Hollywood pap to a realistic view of the enormous self-sacrifice and commensurate value of marriage.Katie and Ben were happy once. They met when she was a secretary in his office, and both were carefree and fun. But over the years Ben has stayed carefree (read irresponsible), and Katie has become a neurotic stick-in-the-mud. And now they find themselves caught in a morass, having the same fight over and over. They've tried everything, including counseling and a romantic trip to Europe, but their marriage has deteriorated to the point that they can't even make small talk at dinner.
In June they drop the kids off at summer camp, and on the drive back home Ben says, heartbreakingly, "Isn't this the moment where we say. … 'All couples go through this. We love each other. Let's give it another try'?" The answer is no, they've given it enough other tries. Ben moves into a motel, and the separation begins.
Throughout, Ben is the more sympathetic character. He wants to reconcile. They have dinner and talk to each other more than they had in months. But when Ben says he wants to give their marriage another shot, Katie balks: "It's over." A few weeks later, Ben—assisted by a little red wine—summons the nerve to try again. When Katie answers the door, he tells her that for the first time he has seen himself through her eyes, and he is sorry. But then he notices Katie's new beau, the family dentist, cooking in the kitchen. Crushed, Ben turns to go, adding that he and Katie need to tell the kids.
It ends as we want it: Katie recognizes the value of having spent 15 years with someone. We're an us, she says, and you can't just discard an us.
One brutal reminder after another, the film ultimately confirms the value of marriage. It ranks community—the us that cannot be replaced—over individual whimsy. And it says, Yes, this may be the hardest thing you ever do. But you stick with it anyway. There is value in relationships forged over time. There is value in joining and staying with a church through the new pastor that you don't like, through the change in worship style, through the comings and goings of other members. New experience is not superior to commitment, community, and "us-ness."
Our God, after all, did not go hunting for a new people when relationships were strained, when communication was difficult, when love grew stale. He has stuck around faithfully—no matter how difficult our marriage has become.
Lauren Winner is a staff writer for Christianity Today.
The official Story of Us Web site offers information about the film, the cast, and the filmmakers. It's not the fanciest movie site out there, but it'll do for some quick info.
The Rotten Tomatoes site offers links to movie trailers, photos, and (the true strength of the site) reviews in a consensus-meter that sums up 57 different reviews.
In his first installment of Film Forum, our weekly look at how Christian film critics view the week's top movies (see the latest here), Steve Lansingh summarized Story of Us reviews by Focus on the Family, Preview, The Christian Critic, and ChildCare. Lansingh also reviewed the film on his own site, The Film Forum.
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