Right on television, in full sight of all Baltimore and while discussing nothing more inflammatory than a highway plan, Lorie Bryer (Elizabeth Perkins), one-half of a TV opinion show, suddenly flings her coffee mug at Dan Hanson (Kevin Bacon), the other half. Reprised in slow motion on "Entertainment Tonight," her uncharitable act gets their dinky local show 30 seconds of notoriety and perks up potential sponsors. But what really happened? And why?
"He Said, She Said" (selected theaters) is here to tell us, in engaging but finally overabundant detail. How men and women see the same events is a funny idea: To him the editors were brusque but businesslike, to her they were paternalistic and condescending; to him the girl was sophisticated and classy; to her she was a roller-derby bimbette. It's got possibilities.
If not a brilliant premise, it's a good one, with a more-than-good cast in a sparkling-looking production. Directors Ken Kwapis ("He Said") and Marisa Silver ("She Said"), a couple off-screen, have a deft vision of contemporary life; this is one of the rare romantic comedies where all the details look right and no one is dealt with cruelly. All the more reason to feel sorry that its cumulative effect is piffling.
Perkins' mug-toss is actually the last straw in what is also the couple's three-year off-camera relationship, begun when they were rival writers at the Baltimore Sun. Each had been promised a chance at a regular column, so in a fit of managerial indecision, they're forced into a write-off. When both turn in crackling good samples, the editors are intrigued enough by the his-hers, conservative-liberal possibilities that they're awarded side-by-side columns, which later become a side-by-side TV stint.
In classic romantic-movie fashion and in debuting screenwriter Brian Hohlfeld's screenplay, these two, who can't agree on whether the toothpaste should have stripes or not, are destined to fall in love. Both halves of the movie begin with the coffee-cup bopping, flash back to the lovers' meeting and courtship and work around to the resolution, on-camera before their TV audience. (The picture is MPAA-rated PG-13 for its love affairs and living-together arrangements.)
The movie's zing comes--and should come more sharply--from their wildly different versions of the same moments and from their free-floating fantasies. As they move in together, Bacon watches the apartment close up like a trap, its windows slamming shut viciously and all the seductions of the world fading away forever. As they watch a hilariously bad dance recital, she sees it as a pas de deux of love, with them as the dancing lovers.
His take on life is blithe, self-protective, slightly shallow and directed by Kwapis at a brisk tempo. Feelings panic this contemporary man. He sees himself as one of his treasured plastic figures; Wolfman, strong, aloof, destined to live alone. Nevertheless, he's been warding off aloneness for some time now with Linda (Sharon Stone). She fits his plans perfectly: She makes him look occupied but not committed.
The Lindas of the world are not much help with his 4 a.m. night sweats, however--the point at which his conscience and general good sense speak loudest. In someone as seemingly unconscious as Hanson, who's also intent on cutting as wide a romantic swath as he can, these nighttime panics are a touching sign of vulnerability.
Perkins' world view is astringent and more than slightly absurdist. It not only balances Bacon's occasional pomposity, it more than occasionally deflates it. She flummoxes him by laughing at the damnedest moments: When he's kissed her for the first time or when he's said something profound, like "A newspaper is a daily miracle, and we're all part of it." She's a godsend and a delight and she should probably set her sights slightly higher than this lunk she's yearning for.
By the time we get her half of the story, which director Silver takes at a much more reflective tempo, it begins to seem like a very great deal of exposition for the second time. This is in spite of marvelously silly new scenes from her memory, like his Scandinavian relative's wedding, complete with the Chicken Dance. (The Chicken Dance is to be treasured.)
Hohlfeld wraps his story by wimping out completely; conciliation in characters this tough-minded feels more like an abandonment of principles than love conquering all. It's a soggy ending to the promise of a buoyant souffle.
'He Said, She Said'
Dan Hanson: Kevin Bacon
Lorie Bryer: Elizabeth Perkins
Linda: Sharon Stone
A Paramount Pictures presentation of a Frank Mancuso Jr. production. Directors Ken Kwapis ("He Said"), Marisa Silver ("She Said"). Screenplay Brian Hohlfeld. Camera Stephen H. Burum. Editor Sidney Levin. Production design Michael Corenblith. Music Miles Goodman. Costumes Deena Appel. Art direction David James Bomba, set decoration Merideth Boswell. Sound Richard Bryce Goodman. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children younger than 13).