MERYL STREEP and Robert De Niro are "Falling in Love," but pretty dang slowly. The couple, together again for the first time since "The Deer Hunter," play Westchester County commuters in a Christmas-time romance. You could call it "The Reindeer Hunter," but that would be silly. It's more like the "Dear Hunters."
If you're working with a script like this, in which nothing much happens except train rides between the City and the suburbs, longing looks at lunches or shopping at Rizzoli's for books, you need actors like Streep and De Niro. They can emote and react like the dickens, and make you cry despite a score that sounds like a commercial for Pinocchio videos.
The love story, while extramarital, is as pure as the driven snow before rush hour. It was written by playwright Michael Cristofer, a Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winner for "The Shadow Box." This is his film debut, and while his work features delightful dialogue and insight into modern circumstance, it lacks that old standby, an involving plot.
The director, Ulu Grosbard, also a theater veteran, puts the cast first and film technique second. Consequently, the performances are wonderful. But Grosbard hasn't infected the scenario with a whole lot of passion. This is a celibate love affair and a mellow drama. And if you don't think these are decent people who remember their obligations, well, the director of photography does. You can tell by the number of wedding band shots.
Of course, for folks such as myself who go to a lot of films, this one is a relief. Nobody is killed, maimed, abused, battered or yelled at, even. Dramatically, that can be something of a problem. There's nobody to get mad at. Nobody deserves to be unloved or left. De Niro can't say his wife (Jane Kaczmarek) doesn't understand him. She most certainly does. And Streep's husband (David Clennon) is supportive.
Everybody is nice. "Falling in Love" is a nice movie, a holiday movie with a Christmas setting with a happy ending. It's a Christmas shoppers' matinee and a commuters' guide to love in the afternoon, but not exactly an affair to remember.
FALLING IN LOVE -- At area theaters.