I can't characterize Falling in Love as a surprise, but none the less it is a disappointment. Somehow, I never thought that it would come together well, despite all of the high powered talent involved. Still, it is too bad that so many talented people wasted so much of their time on such a trifling movie.

Falling in Love tells the rather thin story of two people who fall in love as a result of a series of encounters on a commuter train. Both are already married. Robert De Niro plays a builder (or maybe an architect, it isn't made completely clear) with a wife and two children. Meryl Streep is a commercial artist who comes into New York to visit her father in the hospital. After a series of near misses, the two meet. Neither can quite forget the other, and their subsequent meetings confirm that they are indeed falling in love, just like the title says. Eventually they must decide whether to give up their marriages for each other.

The only thing that could really qualify as a subplot is a desultory bit of business with the worsening condition of Streep's father, but this isn't stressed at all. Therefore, the film rises or falls on how interesting the central love affair is. Unfortunately, it is far from fascinating. De Niro and Streep do not have very interesting characters. In part this is due to Michael Christofer's script, but the actors must share the blame. Both De Niro and Streep seem to be strongest when playing characters with peculiarities. De Niro was fascinating in Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and Streep was excellent in Sophie's Choice and The French Lieutenant's Woman. Faced with roles without strong moments and good hooks, they seem lost, though. Streep comes up with a mad scene at her father's funeral which is entirely out of place, but otherwise the characters are very dull.

Just as there is no plot support to the central theme, so there is little character support. Harvey Keitel is OK as De Niro's best friend, and Diane Weist is moderately interesting as Streep's best friend (a little odd that each has an allocation of exactly one friend, but that's Hollywood). In the final analysis, though, they have little to do but listen to the stars talk about each other and provide sketchy glimpses of alternate lifestyles. The spouses are also underwritten, as is Streep's father, and those are really all the characters there are.

Falling in Love has a few good moments, mostly based on the wit of the script. Christofer has failed to provide the Christmas tree, but at least he brought the tinsel. There is a good scene early in the picture in which De Niro and Streep, unaware of each other's presence, make calls home from adjacent phone booths; their conversations begin to sound almost linked as they go through the cliches of talking to your spouse on the telephone. Ultimately, despite a few good scenes, tedium prevails. Like me, you are likely to find your mind wandering as leisurely, unimportant scenes plod across the screen.

Director Ulu Grosbard (True Confessions) gets no plaudits for Falling in Love, either. The film would be about twice as good if it were paced twice as fast. Falling in Love is lugubrious and labored. Grosbard shows little imagination in the presentation of the love affair. In fact, the only innovation is that the lovers do not go to bed together. There may be a film, probably a comedy, maybe a tragedy, in continually frustrated lovers, but Christofer and Grossbard make relatively little of it here. The cinematography is strangely cold and sculptured. A warmer, more golden feeling might have been better in keeping with a love story. Considering the stars' backgrounds, anything which speaks of portending disaster, as this photography does, is probably a mistake in a film which seeks to be fairly light.

Falling in Love isn't worth seeing. That's what it amounts to. The film is professionally made, of course, and no one makes a fool of himself (or herself, either). I can't picture anyone caring about this film, though, or being moved by it. If it shows up on cable on an otherwise slow night, you might want to take the effort to turn the TV on. Further effort, though, will be unrewarded.

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