A charming rom-com piffle starring a pair of actors who were nearing the end of their real-life marriage, More Than Friends presents Penny Marshall and Rob Reiner as close friends who drift in and out of relationships with each other and with separate partners over the course of two decades. Acquaintances since childhood, the leading characters make their first halting attempt at getting together on the occasion of their graduation from high school. Thereafter, the pals move in different directions, with Marshall’s character pursuing an acting career while Reiner’s character becomes a writer. Through it all, he remains hung up on his childhood sweetheart, even though her ambitions to explore the world beyond the New York neighborhood where they grew up lead her to behave in fickle and insensitive ways. Although Reiner’s character is imperfect, prone to sarcasm and self-loathing, the notion is that he’s a grounded everyman while Marshall’s character has her head in the clouds.
The vibe is set right from the beginning, with delightful romantic patter during a would-be makeout session. After Matty (Marshall) says she finds chrome-domed 1950s movie star Yul Brynner appealing, Alan (Reiner) indicates his own receding hairline, then pounces: “You stick with me, you’ll get all the sexy baldness you want!” Comic interplay with chewing gum further deglamorizes the scene, accentuating the idea of how awkward it is to get intimate with someone you already know well on a platonic level. Another key notion, that of working-class New Yorkers getting put in their place for having highfalutin goals, gets expressed in the scene where Matty’s mother scoffs at dreams of stardom: “You are not a special person,” she says to Matty. “You are less than average.” Ouch. One of the many strengths of the script, written by Reiner and Phil Mishkin, is that the main characters have dimensions beyond their archetypal qualities. By the end of the picture, they seem like real people—or as real as people inside a foregone-conclusion rom-com can seem.
Smoothly directed by TV-comedy icon James Burrows, the movie has a literary quality, with Reiner’s character providing retrospective voiceover that connects vignettes from different periods. Each major scene lingers just long enough for comic and dramatic effect, at which point the story zips ahead to the next significant juncture. Even though the story is completely predictable, every scene in More Than Friends is entertaining or heartfelt, if not both. And while the picture is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, some bits are delicious. Howard Hesseman is great in a small role as a pretentious theater director, and Michael McKean—at the time, Marshall’s costar on Laverne & Shirley—has a killer sequence as a ridiculous folksinger. That particular bit presages the beloved musical satires that McKean later made with Reiner and with Christopher Guest.
More Than Friends: GROOVY