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‘Married to It’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 26, 1993

To get a feel for "Married to It," you should know the married couples involved. So meet:

Upscale yuppies Cybill Shepherd and Ron Silver.

Ex-hippies Beau Bridges and Stockard Channing.

Iowa childhood sweethearts Robert Sean Leonard and Mary Stuart Masterson.

In director Arthur Hiller's comedy, the New York couples become rapidly acquainted when they're obliged to plan a school pageant. Channing, head of the parents association, recruits glamour-banker Shepherd, whose stepdaughter Donna Vivino (Silver's child from a previous marriage) attends the school. Channing also pulls in school psychologist Masterson, who offers to host a dinner to plan the event.

From this stirring beginning a movie is born, a very dull movie. They wouldn't even show this on a plane. At that Masterson dinner, six cardboard stereotypes stare each other in the face and struggle to make conversation. Masterson's husband Leonard is a junior stockbroker on Wall Street. Silver is a toy manufacturer who loves sleek cars and his daughter. Shepherd is a snotty investment banker with a heart of ice. Bridges and Channing work in the city's social services department.

They never get around to discussion of the pageant, which destroys all hope of a premature conclusion. In fact, avoiding the matter becomes the running "joke," as they hold another dinner, at Shepherd's seven-fireplace Manhattan spread; then another at Bridges and Channing's sprawling mess of a place.

But during these meetings, and in between, they become increasingly (and inexplicably) involved in each other's lives. In different stages of couple-ness, they all suffer relationship turbulence. Shepherd can't get along with stepdaughter Vivino and threatens divorce. After 15 years, Bridges and Channing have lost their spark. Meanwhile, Leonard finds himself at the center of a publicized financial scandal -- which strains his relationship with Masterson. The men get together to talk about the women. The women get together to talk about the men. There is pain, rage and anxiety. There is anguish, grief and disgust. Unfortunately, most of it comes from the audience.

One only has to recall Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives," another farce involving multiple couples, to see how far "Married" has to go to be . . . funny. It must be charitably said that the performers do their utmost with the innocuous scraps scriptwriter Janet Kovalcik has thrown them. Bridges makes an amusingly shaggy '60s survivor, who suddenly spews a torrent of anachronistic anti-Nixon venom at a show-and-tell appearance at his embarrassed son's class. Tight-lipped Silver has a tremendous knack for timing. He should try a comedy after this. As for Shepherd, she occasionally gets in some quippy, post-"Moonlighting" zingers -- even though her character remains functionally dead. This movie is one case in which it would have been better to cut and run than try to save the marriage.

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