The Story of Us

USA 1999

Reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Los Angeles, the present. Ben and Katie Jordan have been married for 15 years. He's a writer, carefree and spontaneous. She works as a crossword compiler. They maintain the façade of a happy relationship for the sake of their two kids, - Josh, aged 12, and Erin, aged 10 - but the cracks are beginning to show.

During the summer, while the kids are sent away to camp, Ben and Katie agree to a trial separation. Ben moves out of the family's suburban house. During their time apart, they reflect on their marriage, what they loved about each other and what went wrong between them. When they visit the kids in camp, they sleep in separate beds. Ben and Katie have dinner together and it looks as if they've recaptured their old spark. They go upstairs to the bedroom, but before they can sleep with one another they begin squabbling again.

They agree to a divorce and plan to meet the kids on the bus back from summer camp, take them out to dinner and tell about the split. But while waiting for the bus to arrive, Katie decides she can't go through with the divorce. She realises she still loves Ben. The family is reunited, seemingly now at last happy.


With The Story of Us, Rob Reiner attempts the near-impossible: to make an upbeat romantic comedy about a marital breakdown. The film begins misleadingly. Early on, when Ben addresses the camera directly as if talking to his therapist, he seems to be discussing a relationship which is already over. Just to emphasise how bleak the prospects are for the once-loving couple, Reiner plays a lugubrious Eric Clapton ballad again and again on the soundtrack. "I wonder if there's anything more horrible than a man and wife who hate each other," Strindberg once wrote. The problem with The Story of Us is that Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer don't feel any animosity for one another. "Fighting became the language of the relationship," we're told, but we wait in vain for the pot-smashing, drunken spats and vicious insults which usually come with Scenes from a Marriage-style dramas. Instead, Reiner throws in some cutesy dinner-table scenes, in which mom and pop play at domestic harmony for the sake of the kids, and one or two sequences in which they sit around discussing their love lives with their slick, superficial friends. In their bright little corner of affluent, suburban LA, nobody suffers much. Pfeiffer is grumpy Willis leaves her to do most of the organising and housework. ("I'm sick and tired of being the designated driver in this marriage," she complains.) Willis, for his part, is exasperated at how strait-laced she has become. This, it seems, is grounds enough for separation.

In some ill-judged flashbacks, we see the couple in their courtship days. To signal how carefree and happy they were way back then, both sport peculiar hairstyles. (Willis looks like a band member from Reiner's earlier comedy This is Spinal Tap while Pfeiffer is all unflattering curls.) In one redundant interlude, we see them go to Venice to try to reignite their romance. Reiner can't resist picture-postcard shots of them dancing at dawn by the lagoon or playing footsie on a gondola. The point seems to be that relationships don't break down in blazing rows. It's the little things - irritating habits, domestic oversights - which cause them to come unstuck. Couples grow apart almost without noticing it. This may be so, but it doesn't make for an exciting movie. To pep matters up, Reiner therefore throws in some slapstick (tugs of war with the kids, lovemaking on the kitchen table) and wheels on several eccentric marriage-guidance counsellors for comic relief. The star casting doesn't help. It is hard to accept Willis and Pfeiffer as an ordinary couple, struggling with everyday problems.

Nothing is at stake. Pfeiffer starts seeing another man but the relationship is never serious. Willis moves into his own apartment, where he broods over his laptop and learns to do his own shopping. The question isn't whether they'll get back together but when. Shorn of tension, the movie meanders along in its own bland, enervating way to its pre-ordained conclusion. Prettily shot, well-enough acted, it ends up seeming utterly inconsequential.


Rob Reiner
Rob Reiner
Jessie Nelson
Alan Zweibel
Alan Zweibel
Jessie Nelson
Director of Photography
Michael Chapman
Robert Leighton
Alan Edward Bell
Production Designer
Lilly Kilvert
Music/Music Producer
Eric Clapton
©CR Films, LLC
Production Companies
Warner Bros. presents in association with Castle Rock Entertainment
Executive Producers
Jeffrey Stott
Frank Capra III
Associate Producer
Tammy Glover
Production Supervisors
Carl S. Griffin
Italy Unit:
Giovanni Lovatelli
Production Controller
Julie Jones
Production Co-ordinators
Diane Ward
Italy Unit:
Gabriella Di Santo
Venice Co-ordinator
Italy Unit:
Anita Tomaselli
Unit Production Manager
Jeffrey Stott
Unit Manager
Italy Unit:
Marco Olivieri
Location Managers
Ken Haber
Lori Balton
Location Supervisor
Italy Unit:
Rosanna Roditi
Assistant Directors
Frank Capra III
Todd Y. Murata
Ken Wada
Italy Unit:
Bojana Sutic
Emanuela Minoli
Script Supervisor
Kerry Lyn McKissick
Jane Jenkins
Leigh French
Camera Operators
Daniel Gold
Gregory Lundsgaard
Italy Unit:
Giovanni Gebbia
Steadicam Operators
Gregory Lundsgaard
Italy Unit:
Giovanni Gebbia
Visual Effects Supervisor
Charles Gibson
Special Effects Co-ordinator
Paul Lombardi
Computer Design
Liz Radley
Mark J. Olson
Art Directors
Chris Burian-Mohr
Jess Gonchor
Francesco Chianese
Set Designers
John Perry Goldsmith
Anthony D. Parrillo
Supervising Set Decorator
Gretchen Rau
Set Decorators
Sarah Jackson Burt
Kathy Lucas
Italy Unit:
Francesca Caccavale
Daren R. Dochterman
Costume Designer
Shay Cunliffe
Costume Supervisor
Cheryl Blackwell Beasley
Wardrobe Supervisor
Italy Unit:
Paolo Scalabrino
Make-up Department Head
Michael Germain
Make-up Artists
Deborah LaMia Denaver
Melanie Levitt
Body Make-up
Jene Fielder
Make-up Artists
Italy Unit:
Fabrizio Sforza
Alessandra Sampaolo
Head Hairstylist
Candace Neal
Romy Fleming
Italy Unit:
Mirella Ginnoto
Carla Ruffert
Main Titles Design/Production
Imaginary Forces
Kyle Cooper
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Co-writer/Co-producer
Marc Shaiman
Music Programming
Nick Vidar
Jeff Atmajian
Music Editor
Scott Stambler
Music Recordist/Mixer
Tim Boyle
Music Consultant
Arlene Fishbach
"(I) Get Lost", "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton; "It's Good Enough for Rock n' Roll" by Gilby Clarke; "I'm So Excited" by The Pointer Sisters; "The Sheik of Araby" by Teddy Wilson; "Keepin' out of Mischief Now" by Ruby Braff & His New England Songhounds; Leopold Mozart's "Adagio from Concerto in D for Trumpet & Orchestra" by Leipzig New Bach Collegium Musicum, conducted by Max Pommer, Ludwig Güttler (soloist); "Easy Living" by Matt Sinclair; Johann Sebastian Bach's "Bourée from Suite for Orchestra No 1 in C Major BMV 1066" by Camerata Romana, conducted by Eugen Duvier; "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams; "(I) Get Lost Re-mix" by Eric Clapton; "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree"; "Good Bless America"; "Roman Song"; "Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night in the Week"; "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing"; "Get Happy"; "MacArthur Park"
Sound Supervisor
Robert Grieve
Sound Mixer
Robert Eber
Re-recording Mixers
Kevin O'Connell
Greg P. Russell
Dan Sharp
Fred Peck III
Dubbing Engineer
Hanson Hsu
Dialogue Editor
Darren King
Yann Delpuech
Loop Group:
Jack Blessing
Vanna Bonita
Lorenzo Caccialanza
William Calvert
June Christopher
Alfonso De Rose
Cody Dorkin
Chad Einbinder
Nicholas Guest
Matthew Howard
Brie Larson
Luisa Leschin
Lindze Letherman
Samantha McElroy
Christie Mellor
Jonathan Nichols
Martita Palmer
Phil Proctor
Wendy Schaal
Ruth Silveira
Arnold Turner
Gigi Vorgan
Christopher Winsor
Jeff Gomillion
Tom Meloeny
Supervising Editor:
Kimberly Harris
John Murray
Steve Williams
Dan Yale
Michelle Pfeiffer
Katie Jordan
Bruce Willis
Ben Jordan
Rita Wilson
Julie Hagerty
Paul Reiser
Tim Matheson
Colleen Rennison
Erin aged 10
Jake Sandvig
Josh aged 12
Red Buttons
Jayne Meadows
Tom Poston
Betty White
Casey Boersma
Josh aged 2 and a half
Rob Reiner
Dylan Boersma
Josh aged 3
Ken Lerner
Doctor Rifkin
Victor Raider-Wexler
Doctor Hopkins
Albert Hague
Doctor Siegler
Daniel Henson
Josh aged 7
Tara Blanchard
Erin aged 5
Adam Zweibel
Alan Zweibel
Uncle Shelly
Bill Kirchenbauer
Andy Kirby
Lucy Webb
Joanie Kirby
Jessie Nelson
Tommy Tang
cooking teacher
store clerk
James J. Ritz
maître d'
Ryan Townsend
Michael Chapman
Jordan Lund
Robert Alan Beuth
Marci Rosenberg
Art Evans
Renée Ridgeley
Matthew Moreno
taxi driver
Warner Bros Distributors (UK)
8,597 feet
95 minutes 32 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011