The Story of Us
Vows. They’re like New Year’s resolutions — easy to make and impossible to live up to. Instead of going into a marriage vowing “till death do us part,” maybe the ceremony should include the question: “Do you have any idea how difficult this is going to be?” And, if you really believe that you do, then, and only then, you shouldn’t say “I do,” you should say, “I’ll try.”
Award-winning filmmaker ROB REINER directs a romantic comedy that asks the question: Can a marriage survive 15 years of marriage?
The Story of Us, starring BRUCE WILLIS and MICHELLE PFEIFFER, is the very real and humorous examination of Ben and Katie Jordan’s marriage. After ,15 years, the couple is wrestling with the universal paradox: why are the qualities that made them fall in love in the first place now the very things pulling them apart? Emotionally drained from their relationship, Jordan attempt a trial separation while their children, Josh 12, andErin, 10, are away at summer camp. For both Ben and Katie,
fighting has lately become the condition rather then the exception, and they believe that their only option is a silent retreat to neutral corners. During their time apart, both Ben and Katie reflect on the value of their shared history-the dance, perfected over time, that has made them an “us.”
Michelle Pfeiffer is Katie Jordan, the designated driver ofthe marriage. She likes having everything in it place,knowing that there are answers to the little questions and having a sense of closure. Her career as a crossword puzzle designer fulfills her need to know that the little world on that half page is complete. And this is why Katie fell in love with Ben’s (Bruce Willis) imagination, spontaneity and playfulness.
Ben, a writer, is a true romantic who believes in happy endings. But life demands some attention to details; and Ben doesn’t know where the Bactine is, and he lets his washer fluid light blink incessantly red. Ben’s philosophy, as Katie describes it, is comparable to the children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon. Harold is a little boy who draws the world the way he wants it to be and not the way it actually is.
How can these qualities that were once so endearing become so infuriating that you lose sight of what is important? At what point do you forget that without the other person you are incomplete?
The Story of Us is a Castle Rock Entertainment production. Universal Pictures will release the film in the U.S. and Canada, with Warner Bros. handling all international territories. Rob Reiner directs and, with writers ALAN ZWEIBEL and JESSIE NELSON, produces the film. JEFFREY STOTT and FRANK CAPRA III are the executive producers.
Reiner also stars as Stan, Ben’s best friend, who speaks metaphorically about life. He is married to Katie’s effervescent, opinionated best friend, Rachel (RITA WILSON). The two couples have been a part of each other’s lives for years—weddings, babies, New Year’s, birthdays. Stan
and Rachel are the Jordans’ Fred and Ethel Mertz.
Also starring in The Story of Us are PAUL REISER, TIM MATHESON and JULIE HAGERTY. Rounding out the cast, as Ben’s and Katie’s parents, are four extraordinary comic talents: RED BUTTONS, BETTY WHITE, JAYNE MEADOWS and TOM POSTON.
The key craftspeople include director of photography MICHAEL CHAPMAN (Academy Award- nominee for The Fugitive and Raging Bull); production designer LILLY KILVERT (Academy Award- nominee for Legends of the Fall); co-editors ROBERT LEIGHTON (Academy Aware nominee for A Few Good Men) and ALAN EDWARD BELL (The Green Mile, Ghosts of Mississippi and The American President); composer ERIC CLAPTON (Lethal Weapon series and Rush) with MARC SHAIMAN (Academy Aware nominee for Sleepless in Seattle, The American President and The First Wives Club) and costume designer SHAY CUNLIFFE (A Civil Action, City. of Angels and Dolores Claiborne).
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The history of The Story of Us began with a conversation between Rob Reiner and producer/writer Alan Zweibel when they were working on the film North.
“We started talking about doing a movie about what it means to be married for a long period of time.. .the ins and outs, the difficulties of staying married,” says Reiner. “Our couple is going through a lot, and they’re going to determine whether or not they’re able to make a go of it or wind up getting divorced.” Reiner continues that “there are movies about people getting divorced and the trauma of divorce, but you never see movies about all the stuff in between, the difficulties of what it is to have an ongoing, committed relationship.”
The producers/writers, Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson, delved into this project utilizing their own personal experiences to truthfully examine marriage. As Nelson says, “No one ever told me how hard it would be. You fall in and out of love. There are magical times, and then there are
Zweibel adds, “A lot of the scenes did, in fact, happen to me in my life. I was living a lot of it, as were Jessie and Rob.” At times, Zweibel says, he had no idea how certain scenes would turn out until he resolved them in his own marriage. Zweibel and Nelson would collaborate on a
Monday morning and, says Zweibel, “We got together and it became almost like therapy sessions.”
The title of the film was also a collaboration between Zweibel and Nelson. Jessie went to meet Alan at his home for a preliminary project meeting. During her visit, Jessie noticed a beautiful book—a bound and illustrated narrative written by Alan as a gift to his wife titled The Story of Us.
In this book, he composed an account of their relationship’s highs and lows. Zweibel explained that for every holiday, birthday and anniversary he would buy a present for his wife and, inevitably, she would return it the very next day. This gift-giving “ceremony” continued throughout the first decade of their marriage until, for their 10th wedding anniversary, Alan created this account of their relationship, which he determined she could not return to any store!
Nelson knew that The Story of Us was the perfect title for the project they were scripting.
Nelson remembers the first time she heard Pfeiffer at a table reading. “It was a mind-blowing experience. We knew what an extraordinary actress she was and how moving it would be, but we had no idea how funny she was!”
Recalling her first impression of the script, Pfeiffer says, “It was so funny and smart. I don’t think there has been a movie about this subject matter. When you see a story about a marriage on the rocks, or a relationship falling apart, it is usually the result of something huge. The truth of the matter is, most relationships or marriages fall apart because of the day-to-day grind.”
This daily grind has been felt by a plethora of women, including many crew members who were involved in the making of the film. One member of the crew explained the film to her friend by declaring that “Michelle Pfeiffer is playing me!”
Pfeiffer tends to agree with this statement, “Katie is like a lot of women that I know who are basically juggling everything, and I think [they] get overwhelmed by that and begin to resent their mates for not meeting them halfway.”
“Eventually, over time, you just lose touch with each other, without even realizing it. I think that is what this movie is about. Maybe it is the 3,000 diaper changes or ‘Who’s going to pick them up at carpool?’ You begin, without knowing it, to put your relationship in the back seat. However, I think in the end, you have to learn to see things through each other’s eyes and you have to get back to the things you fell in love with,” explains Pfeiffer.
The theme of the film was not the only element that attracted Pfeiffer. “I am a huge fan of Rob’s, and I thought Bruce would be so wonderful in this part. I think that we haven’t seen him do something like this in a long time. He is really funny and really charming.”
After Bruce Willis starred in such hit action films as Die Hard and Armageddon, he has now come full circle by returning to romantic comedy. Reiner explains, “What [Bruce] does best are these wonderfully romantic and comedic scenes. He has a natural, real feeling to him.”
Willis describes the challenges of the role: “[Comedy] is so much harder than doing any other kind of film because it’s just hard to be funny and to take funny dialogue and try to make human jokes out of it. It was an interesting challenge and a great story—a classic story.”
He continues, “It is about the relationship and about the romance… the vulnerability of both characters and what you go through when a relationship is being dismantled. The film captures the breakdown of their marriage at a really interesting time. Ben and Katie are right in the
middle of it and you see how it all falls apart.”
By emotionally in flashbacks, the way each altering, character responds to situations at different points of their 17-year relationship, Pfeiffer and Willis convey the patterns of the Jordans’ everyday lives. Ben and Katie “know each other’s moves,” describes Zweibel, “the subtleties of talking, or sometimes not talking. It is a routine that two people perfect over time,” and Willis and Pfeiffer magically “fit together really well.”
Extending this unique pairing are Rob Reiner and Rita Wilson as the Jordans’ best friends, Stan and Rachel. Wilson describes Stan and Rachel as representing “different aspects of a relationship with different opinions that we may have about marriage. Michelle’s and Bruce’s characters are going through something we’re very opinionated about—marriage!”
Rachel’s character digs deep into the fundamental problems: “Marriage is the Jack Kevorkian of romance—it is virtually impossible to French kiss a person who leaves the new roll of toilet paper resting on top of the empty cardboard roll!” On the other hand, Stan believes that “fear
and guilt are what keep society humming. There are no definitive answers in life; it is all an illusion.”
Paul Reiser adds to the male perspective as Ben’s verbose literary agent, Dave. Reiser states that Dave is “another guy chiming in from the bleachers with bad opinions about what women really need in this world.” As a man who believes that fantasizing is not cheating, Reiser states that Dave’s job is to make Ben “feel a little bit less of a loser, because at least he’s not me!”
Being in a scene with Reiner as a fellow actor and as a director was a wonderful experience for Reiser. “Rob is a great laugher and a great comedy fan.”
Tim Matheson, who plays Marty, Katie’s romantic distraction, agrees with Reiser’s philosophy and has “admired [Reiner’s] work tremendously. He is a real chameleon as a director.”
In concurrence, Willis adds, “There are scenes in the film where I have to be vulnerable and [Reiner] helped me through those.
He is a great director. He really knows the material and would continually come up with jokes and little bits to do.”
Casting the children, Erin and Josh, was very important to defining the Jordan family; winning these roles were newcomers Colleen Rennison and Jake Sandvig. Reiner’s main requirement was finding two actors that have the same qualities as Pfeiffer’s and Willis’ characters. “Erin is very intelligent, sensitive and aware of everything that’s going on,” confirms Reiner. “Josh is kind of a wise guy who has fun, jokes around and doesn’t take anything too seriously.. .chips off the old blocks.”
Four of the most respected comedic actors were cast to portray Willis and Pfeiffer’s parents. Betty White and Red Buttons play Lillian and Arnie, Ben’s easygoing and hopelessly romantic parents. Jayne Meadows and Tom Poston are Katie’s parents, Dot and Harry, who have a marriage built around Dot’s obsessive-compulsive ways.
Reiner expresses, “It was great having these great, solid professionals. They have done a lot of comedy and have incredibly great timing.”
This great timing can be seen in one of Ben and Katie’s many therapy sessions. Their doctor explains that there are never just two people in bed together, there are six, including their parents. Taking a glimpse into this observation, Ben and Katie are fictitiously accompanied during a romantic moment in the bedroom by the quarrelers, Dot and Harry, and the romantics, Lillian and Arnie.
“This scene is like a fugue for six people,” explains Reiner. “The voices of your parents are actually inside you all the time. They guide you in good ways and in bad ways to navigate your ability to relate to the opposite sex,” says Reiner.
The key craftspeople took great care to ensure that the visual images in The Story of Us would be as genuine as the depiction of Ben and Katie’s relationship. The Story of Us was shot in various locations in and around Los Angeles with a brief trip to Venice, Italy, that adds an essential romantic touch.
Being a true Los Angeles-based family, the Jordans are seen in many well-known locations—Will Rogers State Park, Malibu Lake, Third St. Promenade and downtown’s California Plaza, to name a few. In addition, several of Los Angeles’ most celebrated eateries are featured,
including Pinot Bistro, Campanile, Cicada and Miceli’s.
Searching for a possible theme song for The Story of Us was one of Reiner’s biggest challenges. Nothing seemed to perfectly match the sentiment carried throughout the film.
Reiner decided to send a rough copy of the film to renowned artist Eric Clapton.
When a few weeks went by without hearing back from Clapton’s representatives, Reiner decided to contact them directly. Reiner was told that “today is just not a good day.
Let’s wait to contact him.” Coincidentally, Reiner received a FedEx the very moment he ended this conversation. To his surprise, enclosed was a note from Eric Clapton stating his enjoyment of the film. Since it has inspired him on such a personal level, Clapton immediately wrote several verses and recorded them for Reiner to review. “It was unbelievably perfect! It worked like a charm,” says Reiner. His search had concluded with one of the world’s best musicians attached to his film.
Reiner’s longtime composer, Marc Shaiman, heard Eric Clapton’s bittersweet song and immediately knew that it was an exact fit. These melodies were, in turn, embellished to create the final score for the film.
Being in the studio while Clapton recorded the score was “the single most creative experience I have ever had in my 30 years of show business. I was in a dream world,” recalls Reiner.
The script, locations and music gave the filmmakers the foundation to develop a genuinely heartfelt film based on the universal truths of men and women. Reiner believes that “People who have been in a relationship can understand what happens between men and women and what makes it so difficult. The audience is going to sit there and see
themselves in this movie. They are going to identify themselves.. .laugh at themselves.. .and maybe have a better understanding of what goes on between them.”
Rita Wilson affirms this sentiment, “There is value in shared history, love and remembering what you first fell in love with. Allowing yourselves to grow in those 15 years.. .you’re not the same person you started out as. But you have evolved into somebody better.”
As Willis concludes, “Love is the best thing in the world.
There isn’t anything else that exists on Earth as a human emotion that has the appeal and power of love. You are continually drawn back to it. The Story of Us reaffirms the strength of love and romance that everyone can relate to.”