Stanley & Iris (August 11/04)
Stanley & Iris is a harmless little romance that's elevated slightly by the charisma of its two stars, Jane Fonda and Robert De Niro. The two have a genuine chemistry with one another, and it's hard not to root for their characters to finally get together by the film's end. But the screenplay (by Harriet Frank, Jr and Irving Ravetch) constantly undermines the actors' efforts by infusing the story with melodrama and eye-rolling moments of convenience.
Fonda stars as Iris King, a recently widowed woman who - along with her two kids (played by Martha Plimpton and Harley Cross) - shares a small house with her sister (Swoosie Kurtz) and brother-in-law (Jamey Sheridan). Though Iris hasn't been in a relationship since her husband dies, she finds herself drawn to a shy cook named Stanley (De Niro). The two begin a tentative friendship hindered by the fact that Stanley is illiterate, and initially refuses to do anything about it. But after losing his job because of his inability to read or write, Stanley asks Iris to become his teacher.
There's a prevailing feeling of cuteness spread throughout Stanley & Iris, as the film's script puts the emphasis on individual sequences rather than the bigger picture. As a result, the film's pacing is off; the movie lurches forward in spots but then slows to a crawl in others. There are also several inconsistent elements in the story, particularly in terms of Iris' sister - who seems to figure prominently at the outset but disappears completely as the movie progresses.
Likewise, there are plenty of sequences that stretch the boundaries of credibility - the majority of which seem to have been included for the sole purpose of prolonging the moment in which Stanley and Iris actually become a couple. Yet despite such problems, the film remains fairly entertaining - primarily thanks to the ingratiating performances from De Niro and Fonda. Stanley & Iris is the kind of film one watches with their grandmother on a rainy Sunday afternoon; it's watchable, all right, but in an almost mind-numbingly toothless and inoffensive manner.