Takes more than 3 couples to carry weightless 'Married'

March 26, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

What on earth is "Married To It" supposed to be about? What does its weird title even mean? I have no idea.

This is one of the most peculiar big-studio films ever made, a strange and misbegotten piece that seems to be about the perils and pleasures of acquaintance. Great, I like a movie that takes a stand on a tough issue: It's in favor of friendship.

It traces the tangled interminglings of three completely mismatched, Manhattan married couples who somehow come to meet and depend on each other through a series of dreary and completely arbitrary crises. These people have nothing in common at the start and nothing in common at the end. They're only in the same movie because the screenplay says they have to be.

Couple No. 1 is a fatigued pair of former hippies, now spending their lives in New York's crumbling social welfare bureaucracy. The two are Beau Bridges and Stockard Channing, he dyspeptic and she ditsy. Their only luxury, other than moral superiority, is that they send their two boys to a private school and preach non-violence and the glories of Woodstock. You have the feeling they miss the Vietnam War more than the generals who ordered it.

Couple No. 2 is a couple of 26-year-old yuppies fresh from Iowa, played by the peppy Robert Sean Leonard and the perky Mary Stuart Masterson. He's a financial genius who's rising in his brokerage house -- he thinks -- and she's the school psychologist the same school that the first couple's two kids and the third couple's one kid attend.

Couple No. 3 is the zippiest, and I wish the movie had been about them. Ron Silver plays the divorced father of a slightly neurotic 12-year-old daughter whom he adores. Prosperous himself, he's married to extremely wealthy, ironic and brittle Cybill Shepherd. Shepherd might just be worth the price of a ticket: She's profane and unflappable, utterly selfish and self-possessed, and, of course, insanely beautiful.

It's a real star turn in that I didn't believe a single word of it, and I enjoyed every second of it. And she's well matched with the intense Silver, who gives some texture to the divorced man's dilemma of trying to get on with his new life even as he mourns the passing of his old one. Living and grieving aren't exactly the best of pals.

But as interesting as these two are, the movie plods along like a dinosaur on its way to the last watering hole, never really finding a consistent tone. It veers from subject to subject and, most fatally, never convinces us that these people could be friends once the extremely flimsy pretext of their initial meeting is used up. (They all volunteer or are volunteered to help the school's play, an homage to the wonderful '60s that all baby boomers except me loved so extravagantly.)

Arthur Hiller, an old salt, is probably too slick by far to handle such material convincingly. He gives it all that burnished glow of professionalism that actually makes it less believable. It doesn't help at all that there's really too much story for the two-hour format.

For example, Leonard is set up and enmeshed in a stock scandal that itself could have been the subject of a movie. We are shown in great detail the way it gobbles and destroys him and the support he gets from the others. But suddenly we are getting close to the two-hour mark, so the film dispenses with this carefully laid-out crisis in a single expository scene in which he's not even present. That's thinner than the paint on the wall.

Other phony issues are conjured and dispensed with in the same sloppy way. In the end, the movie's not about anything at all. You walk out thinking, I'd like my two hours back, thank you very much. But the bad news is, you're not going to get them back, not ever.

"Married To It"

Starring Beau Bridges, Cybill Shepherd and Ron Silver.

Directed by Arthur Hiller.

Released by Orion.

Rated R.

... **

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