Stanley & Iris
Film Length: 104 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1), Full-Frame (4:3)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Stereo Surround; Spanish – Monaural
Stanley & Iris is the touching story of the relationship that develops between two middle-aged people that are dealing with personal trauma. Stanley Cox (Robert De Niro) is an illiterate man who struggles to learn to read and write after losing his job for being illiterate, and Iris King (Jane Fonda) is trying to cope with the recent death of her husband. Once a twist of fate draws them together, they learn some unexpected things from each other in the process.
Sounds like typical made-for-television fare, right? Well, that is not entirely untrue, but the indelible presence of Oscar©-winners Robert De Niro and Jane Fonda gives Stanley & Iris a lively, heartwarming feeling that helps it rise above its simplistic storyline. The film also benefits from poetic dialogue that is true to these characters, some well written supporting roles, and capable direction. I cannot argue that the major plot points don’t tread down the well-worn paths that many other films have traversed, but the resolution of the relationship between the principal characters in Stanley and Iris contains enough interesting plot twists to keep things fresh. Most importantly for me, I grew to care about these two characters, and wanted to see things work out positively for them.
As the film begins, we meet Iris, who has been recently widowed, and vowed never to fall in love again. To make matters worse, she is also trying to raise her two children on the pittance she earns working in a factory, while also playing host to her sister and brother-in-law. Robert De Niro’s character, Stanley Cox, also works in the plant as a cook, but when management discovers that he cannot read he is fired. Incidentally, since Iris inadvertently brought Stanley’s illiteracy to light, she feels responsible, and offers to teach him to read and write. As the story continues, these writing lessons develop into a much closer relationship. Is there a lengthy future for this blue-collar couple? Watch and see….
Undoubtedly, the real draw for Stanley & Iris is the presence of Robert De Niro and Jane Fonda in the title roles, and their work in this film is indicative of their massive talent. In particular, these wonderful actors succeed in creating characters that are interesting, likable, and most importantly, believable. More to the point, Robert De Niro's subtle, understated performance gives Stanley & Iris a considerable lift, and Jane Fonda is quite remarkable in her role as a sensitive, ordinary woman. The on-screen chemistry of this duo is equally organic and effective.
While it is quite clear that De Niro and Fonda are the stars of this show, Stanley & Iris also features noteworthy performances from some of its supporting players. In particular, Martha Plimpton handles her scenes well, in what is a reprise of sorts of her role in Parenthood as a pregnant teen. Swoosie Kurtz, who plays Iris' volatile sister Sharon, and Feodor Chaliapan Jr., who has a few nice scenes as Stanley’s dad Leonides, are also worthy of a little praise for their work in the film, although neither has much screen time.
Yet another plus for Stanley & Iris is that Director Martin Ritt sets the stage for each scene well, and lets the tale unfold very naturally, which lends an even greater sense of authenticity to the film. In large part, Ritt achieves this by feeding the audience generous helpings of real life, and its problems, which serve as familiar, comforting, and accurate points of reference. Through his efforts, I slowly came to enjoy being a part of the “everyday” lives Stanley and Iris lead.
However, despite its many qualities, I think there are a couple of things that keep Stanley & Iris from being a great film. First of all, there are several characters that appear during the film’s first half that are notably absent during its latter stages, all without explanation. Further, the ending sequence was a tad too formulaic for a film that had previously infused some clever twists into the relationship between Stanley and Iris. Fortunately, neither of these issues completely dissipated the warm and fuzzy feeling I got from viewing this film, and I ultimately found Stanley & Iris to be imminently watchable.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Stanley & Iris is presented by MGM in both anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and standard (4:3), and I don’t think it would be hard to guess which I chose for this review. Though it is not reference quality, this transfer puts the lovely, simple photography of Donald McAlpine in a very good light. Specifically, color reproduction is very good, with clean, bright whites and bold primary colors. Black level is also solid, giving the image a nice texture and commendable shadow detail. Fine detail is also above average, and the print is very clean as well.
The only issues I had with this transfer were the modest amount of edge enhancement, although the resultant halos in dark to light transitions never proved distracting. I also noticed that bright reds tended to bleed very slightly into their surroundings, and that the image also appears a tad soft on occasion, but it never failed to please. Other than that, this is a very respectable effort from MGM!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Stanley and Iris’ Dolby Digital stereo surround track does a fine job of rendering the source material, and I cannot imagine that remixing it into 5.1 would have yielded many benefits. Dialogue sounds very good, and the smallest of noises leap out at the listener, which made me feel involved in the characters’ little world. In addition, frequency response is nice and smooth throughout the audible spectrum, particularly in the midrange.
Further, the soundstage is also spacious enough to allow John Williams’ score to breathe, as well as create tangible instrument separation. Much like the video, there is not too much to complain about. This audio track is not going to take anyone’s breath away, but what it does do is done well.
Trailers and Promotional Materials
The original theatrical trailer for Stanley & Iris is included.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
MGM did not give Stanley & Iris the Special Edition treatment, so the only extra is the original theatrical trailer. Nevertheless, the video and audio presentation for this above average film is above average, and those who have been waiting to this film should be thoroughly pleased with this disc’s A/V quality.
I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, Stanley & Iris is not a cinematic masterpiece, but it is still a fairly entertaining film that features straightforward, professional work from the cast and crew. It is simple, it is somewhat charming, and it features characters that will likely grow on you as you watch their lives unfold. You know, despite the couple of issues I had with it, I liked it enough to spin it again with my wife. After this second viewing, I can say that this feel-good flick might be just the ticket for those looking for a nice romantic movie to cuddle in front of with that “special someone”. Recommended!
January 13th, 2004