Falling in Love, Directed by Ulu Grosbard; Written by Michael Cristofer; Paramount Pictures.

Anyone who believes that an actor or an actress “makes” a film should sit through Falling in Love. Twice. Once for Robert De Niro. Once for Meryl Streep. Those two, certainly, are among the finest American players in the cinema. De Niro, whose eyes can shift from laughter to concern in an instant, and Streep, who is able to make the trip from innocence to expe­rience and back, are, quite simply, the two leading performers of their generation–if only for their scenes together in The Deer Hunter.

In Falling in Love, De Niro plays a contractor who builds high rises in New York City–an honest, down-to­ earth guy. Streep is a free-lance com­mercial artist who does pastel render­ings fit only for menu covers in fern bars that specialize in spritzers. He is married and the father of two. She is also married but childless; she and her husband lost a baby soon after birth. Both families live in the suburbs–but not the cookie-cutter variety.

Writer Michael Cristofer and direc­tor Ulu Grosbard must get Frank and Molly together. They do so through contrivance after contrivance. The im­plausibility breeds impatience. Given the obvious outcome–the title is, after all, Falling in Love–the amaz­ing thing is that the relationship that Cristofer and Grosbard create is as lifeless as a paragraph from a physics textbook. There is no passion. To be sure, two attractive people can meet and find themselves attracted to one another, but they have–or should have–a long way to go between that meeting and the unceremonious dumping of their respective spouses. There must be changes, transformations. Yet in Falling in Love Frank and Molly have a free-fall in a vacuum: no resistance, no friction. What is the point? is the question that never gets answered, along with the more rudi­mentary one, Why? 

The only remarkable thing about Falling in Love is that although its vector is aimed straight at adultery, the characters have scruples of a sort. By the time they get around to kissing, one is ready to applaud for the sake of shaking off the numbness. And there is no skin. None–which goes to show there can be something in nothing. And nothing is what Falling in Love surely is–De Niro and Streep not­ withstanding.     cc