Monday, April 6, 2009

Falling in Love (1984)

Sometimes Love Hurts!

Published: November 21, 1984
(New York Times)

''FALLING IN LOVE'' is a classy weeper that poses a rude question: What are talented people like Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Ulu Grosbard, their director, doing in a sudsy movie like this?

It may be that they were looking to have some fun. Each has been doing fairly heavy duty of late - Mr. De Niro in ''Once Upon a Time in America'' and ''King of Comedy,'' Miss Streep in ''Sophie's Choice'' and Mr. Grosbard in ''True Confessions'' with Mr. De Niro. The change of pace must have appeared terrifically appealing.

''Falling in Love'' is not a bad movie by any means. It's not stupid or gross or cheap. It's been done with taste, but it's the sort of production that, even when it works, which it frequently does, seems too small and trite to have had so much care taken on it.

At heart, ''Falling in Love,'' which opens today at the Tower East and other theaters, is an American ''Brief Encounter'' that goes on too long. It's about two attractive Westchester commuters, each happily married to someone else, who meet, fall in love and then don't know what to do about it.

The principal setting is Manhattan, where Frank Raftis (Mr. De Niro) works in some never clearly defined capacity in the construction business, and Molly Gilmore (Miss Streep), a free-lance commercial artist, comes regularly to sell her work and to visit her hospitalized father.

For what seems an unconscionable amount of time, the Michael Cristofer screenplay crosscuts between the daily routines of Frank and Molly, showing us how, unknown to them, their paths keep crossing - on the train to Manhattan, at Grand Central Station telephone booths, on Fifth Avenue, at restaurants and other pretty locations. However, since Mr. De Niro and Miss Streep are the stars of the film, the movie can keep them apart for only so long without the audience's becoming a wee bit restive.

Even after they meet - on Christmas Eve at the Rizzoli Book Store, where each winds up with the other's purchases - it's still several months before the film gets down to the business of their falling in love. At this point it becomes apparent that the inarticulate, tentative nature of most of the dialogue is, virtually, the style of the film. It's also the point at which the film, which seems to yearn to be a romantic comedy of a more sophisticated, sharper sort, becomes most serious and most affecting in an unembarrassedly sentimental way.

It's not easy to make a movie about people who initially communicate by making tentative proposals that are answered with tentative ''yeahs,'' ''sures,'' ''unhuhs'' and ''okays.'' For a while this also has the effect of bringing out the most tiresome of lifelike gestures, especially in Miss Streep, who spends much of the first part of the movie giving an early Kim Stanley performance composed of shoulder shrugging, expressive but wordless sighs and half-finished sentences.

Mr. De Niro's Frank, who is the more aggressive of the two characters, doesn't have that problem, and once the two do declare their love, Miss Streep is on solid ground with solid material.

The film is well cast from the stars right down to the smallest supporting role with, somewhere in between, Harvey Keitel and Diane Wiest as the respective best friends of Frank and Molly. Also good, though their roles have a kind of built-in superfluousness, are Jane Kaczmarek, as Frank's wife, and David Clennon, as Molly's husband. Only if actors of a stature comparable to the stars' had been playing these roles, would there be a moment of legitimate suspense in ''Falling in Love.''

As it is, one follows the story not to find out what happens next but how it's going to happen.

What keeps the movie going is its combination of intelligent performances and expert timing, which works well up until about 15 minutes before the end. It's then that the very large hankie - which is what Mr. Cristofer's screenplay really is - receives two or three more twists than it can take without being pulled to shreds. One has become all too aware of the studied mechanics of the film, including the Dave Grusin soundtrack music, and of how the mechanism must function if the movie is to end without being a feature-length anticlimax.

When the characters are allowed to become at least partially articulate, their emotions carry real impact. Extremely moving is a scene in which Miss Streep's Molly pours out her feelings about Frank to a skeptical Miss Wiest and reaches her own dead end. Exhausted, she simply says, ''I like being with him.'' Mr. De Niro has an equally wrenching confrontation with his wife, not because he's been physically unfaithful to her, but because he hasn't and desperately wants to be.

There's also one quite wonderful love scene, which may mark a breakthrough for love scenes in this day and age, though not for reasons one would expect.

Under these circumstances, one keeps wanting the film to be much, much better. Mr. Cristofer is capable of writing very funny scenes, as when Mr. De Niro, riding in a packed elevator and chomping on a hot dog, is fiercely scolded by another passenger. ''You shouldn't be eating here,'' says an irate woman. ''People have clothes on.''

It's at such moments that one realizes the kind of romantic comedy ''Falling in Love'' might have been, instead of the high-toned soap opera it seems content to be.

''Falling in Love,'' which has been rated PG-13 (''parental guidance suggested''), contains some vulgar language and one love scene that is unexpectedly erotic without being at all graphic.

Hankies and Kisses FALLING IN LOVE, directed by Ulu Grosbard; written by Michael Cristofer; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Michael Kahn; music by Dave Grusin; produced by Marvin Worth; released by Paramount Pictures. At Tower East, 72d Street and Third Avenue; Paramount, at Columbus Circle, and other theaters. Running time: 106 minutes. This film is rated PG-13. Frank RaftisRobert De Niro Molly GilmoreMeryl Streep Ed LaskyHarvey Keitel Ann RaftisJane Kaczmarek John TrainerGeorge Martin Brian GilmoreDavid Clennon IsabelleDianne Wiest Victor RawlinsVictor Argo Mike RaftisWiley Earl Joe RaftisJesse Bradford.

Falling in love trailer

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