Imagine the most banal dialogue available in a movie, then plan out a very straight forward dry plot, now cast the two most talented actors of their generation as the stars, and you have this movie. It is not offensive or poorly made, it is just wandering around looking for a reason to exist, and it can’t find one. I did not remember anything about this film thirty years after seeing it except that it featured a “cute meet” based on a mix up of Christmas gift books. That was the most interesting thing that happened in this film.
Just looking at the poster tells you how dull the movie is. There is no tag line, no artwork, nothing creative. They slap a cute picture of the two stars on a black background and add the title. You would not even need photoshop to come up with something this dull. The only reasons anyone has to see the film are the two stars. (Two Stars would be a generous rating if this was a ratings based blog).
I’m making a conscious effort to limit the length of this post because I’ve already lost three and a half hours of my life with this movie. The one time I saw it in 1984, and today. Basically nothing happens. I had a writing class in college where the direction for writing fiction was that a story consists of a series of incidents and a few major events. This story has no major events and the incidents are never very interesting. Two married strangers meet and are attracted to each other. There is not any indication of what the attraction is, other than they like the looks of the other person. Over the course of a year, they connect again and develop a relationship that comes close to being an affair but never pulls the trigger. If the story had been about how emotional investment in a person other than your spouse is a form of cheating, this might have been something. It never gets that far.
Most of the process of the two coming together takes place on a commuter train. They dance around sitting next to each other, they moon after the other person when they see them get on the train, and they exchange the dullest conversations you can imagine when they do sit down next to one another. I can’t tell why any of this is supposed to make us care about the couple. In most romances, we learn something about the two people so that we have a rooting interest. These two have almost no personality and their lives are equally without any distinctive features. Except for the fact that Meryl Steep’s character’s father in the film is sick and ultimately passes away, we know nothing about her and the relationship with her husband.
When they do get to the point where they go out together, the most exciting thing they do is go to an arcade where De Niro’s character gets beaten at tick-tact-toe repeatedly…by a chicken. The rest of their time together involves waiting for each other at the train station. I can’t say for sure how many times we end up watching them as they watch for one or the other to show up, but it was a lot. Sometimes we get tossed a bone and there is a phone call at the now defunct and unnecessary phone booths in public places. If seeing people dial a phone or turn their back as they make a call is interesting to you, this film will be fascinating.
The two stars look wonderful but their performances are hindered bu the lack of action and the dullness of the dialogue. Streep has all of the mannerisms that people point out about her going crazy here. She frequently looks away from the character she is supposed to be talking to. She glances down, then off to the side and then a brief second on her counterpart before returning to the averted gaze of a pre-teen school girl. De Niro is not much better, pursing his lips, staring slack jawed, or remaining emotionally silent when he admits to his wife that he has betrayed her in heart if not in body.
Jane Kaczmarek has the best role as De Niro’s wife, a warm mother to their two sons and a befuddled and angry spouse when the truth is out. She is the only performer who feels natural in the movie. Streep’s best friend in the film is played by Diane Wiest and she can never complete a conversation with Streep, the character keeps waving her off as if nothing she could say would matter. The truth is that this is probably true because nothing in this movie matters.
This film was a waste of time for the two stars. Maybe you could justify watching it as a Christmas movie because of the opening few minutes, but a lump of coal would be a better gift. At least it would give off some warmth.