Stanley And Iris
Released By: Twilight Time
January 24, 2017.
Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro, Swoosie Kurtz, Martha Plimpton
Purchase From Screen Archives
Very loosely based on Pat Barker's novel, Union Street, Stanley and Iris hit theaters in 1990...and bombed horrifically. Barely recovering one quarter of its 23 million dollar budget at the box office, the film was cast aside and largely remembered only for being Director Martin Ritt's last film (he would die shortly after it was released). Fonda disappeared from the cinema for the next 15 years, and Robert De Niro's career exploded with Goodfellas, associating the actor forever as a tough guy with connections.
Iris King (Fonda) spends her days working her fingers to the bone in an industrial bakery, cranking out cakes, muffins, and other baked goods for a meagre salary, doing what she can to hang onto her house and provide for her two kids in the aftermath of her husband's death. Riding the bus home after her shift, Iris falls victim to a purse-snatcher, and, throwing caution to the wind in order to protect the few belongings she has, she chases the criminal down for a violent confrontation. Fortunately, as the thief gets the upper hand, assistance arrives in the form of Stanley (De Niro), a cafeteria line worker from the bakery.
Feeling somewhat grateful, Iris attempts to engage Stanley at work the following day, and Stanley reciprocates by making sure that she gets a huge helping of mashed potatoes with her lunch. But when Iris asks Stanley for Tylenol to help alleviate a headache, she realizes as he passes her bottle after bottle that her new friend cannot read. As fate would have it, Stanley's boss shows up at that moment to accuse Stanley of thievery through some alteration of the cafeteria's invoices, and Iris intercedes to defend Stanley; by informing the boss that the illiterate Stanley could not be capable of such trickery due to his disability. Iris certainly means well, but her good intentions backfire when Stanley is let go.
Out of work, and with no money to care for his ailing father, Stanley is forced to put the old man in a state-funded rest home, a move that has dire consequences. Humbling up, Stanley overcomes his need to be self-sufficient and asks Iris to teach him to read, which she somewhat reluctantly agrees to. Despite the frustrations and setbacks inherent in such an undertaking, it isn't long before the fuzzy tentacles of romance begin to unfold and encircle the unlikely pair, but as Stanley fights his disability and reluctance to open up to Iris, she must also overcome the spectre of her late husband and her defiant daughter.
At the surface, Stanley and Iris is pure schmaltz, romantic sorta-comedy in a pretty town with a sweeping score to go along with it. It's certainly miles away from the novel that it takes the character of Iris from, not going near the darker material found in Union Street, and no fans of Martin Ritt are going to compare the struggles found in the film to his earlier works like The Great White Hope, Sounder, or Conrack. It's a cookie-cutter story that you just know is going to end on a high note, and it's not hard to see why nobody gave much of a damn about it when it was released. Even the ending feels like an afterthought, like maybe the previous bit wasn't clearly wonderful enough, and needed reinforcement.
Looking past the stuff that your mom is into, though, and getting beneath the hood, and Stanley and Iris shines in one area; performances. Fonda is wonderful here, sincere and compassion-worthy in her portrayal of Iris. From her first scene to the credits, it's impossible to not ache for this poor woman's struggle. De Niro manages to be both classic De Niro when he's attempting to disconnect from his feelings, but also convey Stanley's desperation to improve his situation, echoing Iris' own path in life. A standout performance from Martha Plimpton scores highly as well, and the combination of Ritt's direction and Donald McAlpine's (Predator!) cinematography makes Stanley and Iris very pleasant to take in, visually.
Twilight Time brings Stanley and Iris to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer that looks wonderful, with stunning detail, deep blacks, and a dynamic colour palette that fully captures the small-town Connecticut (and later Toronto, I suppose) landscape. The odd speckle does pop up here and there, but it's the picture is overall clean with no visual artifacts.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is perfectly adequate for the material, being largely dialogue-driven, and exhibits no muffling, hiss, or distortion. As expected with a Twilight Time title, the John Williams score is available on an Isolated Audio Track.
English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing are provided.
Extras on this disc include a Trailer for the film, and a commentary with Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. Though the two don't get too much into the technical aspects of making the movie, they enthusiastically and wordily discuss the location of the film, the relocation of the film to Toronto, Ontario, due to veteran protests against Jane Fonda (who was actively anti-war during America's time in Vietnam) and the critical reception that the film received upon release. Obviously big fans of Fonda, Kirgo and Redman also do extensive analysis of the characters and talk about the book upon which it was based.
The Interactive Twilight Time Catalogue can also be found on the disc, and the insert booklet includes an essay by Julie Kirgo.
The Final Word:
Heartwarming may not be your cup of tea, but there's no denying that Stanley and Iris contains powerhouse performances by phenomenal actors. An enjoyable viewing experience, a solid transfer...even if the ending is a bit of a letdown.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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