The formula sounds foolproof: a love story starring Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro set during Christmas in New York City. The proximity of those two stars alone promises great chemistry—or at least a great deal of acting. Add to all that the romantic theme of strangers meeting on a train, and throw in yet another Christmas by ending the story exactly one year later. As long as someone remembers to load the camera, a movie with that combination of elements should be bound for glory. Unfortunately, Falling in Love gets derailed along the way.
From the very beginning the film is clearly a wholesome, old-fashioned romance. It is remarkable how two actors as familiar as De Niro and Streep can disappear so completely into their characters: two decent, married people who ride the same commuter train from the suburbs to Manhattan and, against their better judgment, fall in love. De Niro plays Frank Raftis, an architectural engineer with an understanding wife and two young sons. The scene in which Frank and his wife, Ann, exchange slightly disappointing Christmas gifts is a small lesson in marital tact. Streep, as Molly Gilmore, is married to an overworked doctor, while her career as a graphic artist is in the doldrums. She rides in and out of the city to visit her ailing father and,
while shopping in a bookstore, she runs into Frank for the first time.
Although the audience is already ripe for seduction, it takes another three months before they even start a conversation on the evening train. The first words they say to each other are “I’m married,” but they nervously agree to “ride together.” Then they meet for lunch because, as Frank says, “married people have to eat too.” While all around them couples are cheating and divorcing, Molly and Frank stay out of bed and slowly fall in love.
The day that realization dawns for Molly, she tries to break off with Frank, but by 6 p.m. the two of them are racing through Grand Central Station toward each other. It is a great embrace, but the real movie ends there. Unwilling to face weekly trysts in a borrowed apartment, the two of them live through a separation that becomes as frustrating for the audience as it is for the lovers.
But from that point on, annoying plot contrivances undermine the fine performances. The currents of the city that brought them together work against them—the train doors that once seemed to linger open long enough for them to leap through now slam shut right on schedule. Every romance needs an obstacle, but in this one the main problem appears to be rush hour in New York City, as the car-crossed lovers keep missing their connections. By the end of the movie it is hard to tell whether Molly and Frank are lovesick or just travel-sick. -MARNI JACKSON
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