The depiction of the marriage through a series of non-linear flashbacks is reminiscent of Two for the Road (1967) starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, while the "interview" segments featuring characters addressing the camera directly as a therapist are reminiscent of Reiner's previous film When Harry Met Sally... (1989) starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.
Ben Jordan (Bruce Willis) and his wife Katie (Michelle Pfeiffer) have been married for fifteen years; they have two children, Erin (Colleen Rennison) and Josh (Jake Sandvig), a nice home and a comfortable life. Their happy marriage, however, turns into a sham—a performance they deliver daily for the benefit of their children, while behind the scenes they cannot stand each other anymore. Sending their kids off to summer camp, Ben and Katie commence a trial separation, during which both try to recall what it is about the other that led them to fall in love in the first place.
The Story of Us was the last full-length feature film appearance of Academy Award-winning actor Red Buttons.
The Story of Us received a rating of 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 37 on Metacritic, indicating generally negative reviews.
In The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote: "The Story of Us offers such an arthritic vision of middle-aged marriage that it feels like the first Jack Lemmon comedy made expressly for the baby boom generation. Perhaps that would explain the casting of Bruce Willis as a jokey but sensitive suburban Dad and Michelle Pfeiffer as his beleaguered spouse. The stars, variously directed by Rob Reiner to kid around, look wistful or scream so hard that their necks turn red, are not helped by the film's elbow-in-the-ribs humor or its overbearing tactics. Though it sets out to explain why this marriage is worth saving, The Story of Us could prompt even single members of the audience to file for divorce."
In the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan wrote: "A wannabe sensitive film that's scared of cutting too deeply, The Story of Us doesn't want to be real enough to jeopardize its homogenized humor. While it's already hard to accept carefully photographed major stars like Willis and Pfeiffer as regular folks with everyday problems, it's even harder when both their fun and their fury seem slickly scripted. Not only don't we feel the Jordans' pain, it's not clear that we even want to... Pfeiffer and Willis acquit themselves as well as the script and direction allow, though Willis' romantic comedy timing does seem to have gotten rusty since his Moonlighting days. Their movie-stars-yelling-at-each-other relationship doesn't feel much more real than the happily married act they put on for their kids."
In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote: "Gene Siskel used to ask if a movie was as good as a documentary of the same actors having lunch. Watching The Story of Us, I imagined a documentary of the marriage of, say, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. I do not say that to score a cheap point, but because Moore and Willis are spirited and intelligent people who no doubt had interesting fights about real issues, and not insipid fights about sitcom issues... there is a restaurant scene in which Willis screams angrily in an unsuccessful (indeed, melancholy) attempt to rip off Meg Ryan's famous restaurant orgasm in Reiner's When Harry Met Sally... At the end of his tirade, Willis jumps up and tells Reiner what he can "shove up the tops of your legs!" Doesn't work, because (a) he's too angry to think up or stop for a punch line, (b) the line isn't funny, and (c) the setup wasn't funny, either, because the concept isn't funny. Oh, and the scene ends with Reiner doing a double-take directly into the camera. How many ways can one scene be mishandled? Who thought this movie would be entertaining? The same person who thinks we need more dialogue about why guys do the wrong thing with rolls of toilet paper. And who thinks the misery of this film can be repaired by a showboat monologue at the end that's well-delivered by Pfeiffer, but reads like an audition scene."
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle wrote: "Anyone so naive as to turn to Hollywood for a wise and honest statement about marriage deserves this film... One thing the movie accomplishes: It shows how arguments can flare up out of nowhere and become shouting matches. Pfeiffer and Willis are convincingly married in those moments... Reiner compounds dishonest writing with dishonest direction. Though Katie gushes to her husband within earshot of her kids, he never cuts to the children for their reactions. In fact, he tries to make us believe the kids didn't hear a thing. It's typical of The Story of Us, which is not really about marriage. It's about Kodak moments."
In The Washington Post, Stephen Hunter wrote: "Willis seems particularly miscast. His tendencies toward smirkiness have been encouraged and sentimentalized. As for Pfeiffer, she spends so much time screaming at him for failing to fill the windshield wiper fluid container in the van that it's easy to forget she is one of the world's most beautiful women and gifted actresses. Michelle, enough with the mommy crap! Get a cocktail dress and a pair of very high-heeled Steve Maddens, and make us dream about you again."
Empire wrote: "Essentially, it's When Sally Divorced Harry... as Bruce (playing Bruce) and Michelle (the whining wife) try a temporary separation, then proceed to dissect their marriage with the obligatory flashbacks (Bruce Willis with long hair getting the only laugh) and weakly written Nora Ephron-esque chats with witty pals (Bruce gets Reiner and Paul Reiser, Michelle gets Rita Wilson), which only serve to remind us how much better this would have been if Reiner had hired Ephron to write it."
Time Out wrote: "Time has steadily coarsened Reiner's once sure touch for frantic comedy, and although he neutralises the more sentimental elements of Alan Zweibel and Jessie Nelson's banal screenplay, his failure to flesh out or evoke sympathy for either character reduces the movie to an unedifying slanging match."
Awards and nominations
Colleen Rennison was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young Actress.