“Our (Almost Completely True) Love Story” – An appreciation

Full disclosure. I can’t write an actual review because I’m not a disinterested party. This imaginative tale, and by that I mean some of it is true and some of it is hyperbole, was written and acted by two very close friends. Mariette Hartley, who is still a star of stage and screen, and Jerry Sroka, he of the wild hair and vibrant voice-over career (his Woody Allen is so spot on that he’s actually dubbed Allen), are an unlikely couple of the first order.

Jerry and Mariette actually met 20 years ago and it wasn’t in a bird store, as the movie would have you believe. As I recall, Jerry saw her at a board meeting of the Screen Actors Guild where he had just been elected as a representative. Turning to friend and fellow actor Tony Roberts, he remarked he could go for her in a big way. Laughing, Roberts remarked, “She is way above you in more ways than one.” But sometimes it pays to dream big and, long story short, they’ve been married for 18 years. Instead of SAG, they used a bird store in the Valley as their “meet not so cute” because, as Jerry stated, it was convenient, a cheap location and owned by a friend, who also took on the role of the bird store owner.

Jerry is an avid softball player, a full time passion for many in the Valley. My brother was in a league for eons and he still plays when he makes infrequent visits from Texas. Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal lead the most famous of the teams in the league, but Jerry’s ties to his team are decades long and most of the players came out in force for the premiere. Some were even in the film. Don Scardino, their outstanding director, has known Jerry since they were in “Godspell” together in the 70s, ushered and pushed the film along, polishing it all the way to a glistening finish. He also took on a role as Mariette’s friend and confidante and helped secure the opening music. Truly a man of all trades.

It doesn’t look like the movie was done on a shoestring, which it was, because the production values are first rate. Tim Hennessy’s cinematography was as generous in the close-ups as he was with the locations. Editing by Matthew Bennett was crisp and flowing. Mariette and Jerry finished filming right before COVID shut everything down and theirs was the project that kept Bennett from going crazy, editing it in isolation when he could go nowhere, and working on anything brand new was verboten.

The script is laugh out loud funny when focused on the lead up to their connection. Ironically, each had individually described their perfect date but each was looking on the wrong websites. Jerry longed for a Shiksa Goddess (and Mariette is nothing if not that). Mariette longed for a Jewish man with a great sense of humor and able to pay his own way. In her previous three marriages (only the most recent was referenced) she was the entire financial support and there hadn’t been a lot of yuks. Jerry is just that, an actor who works (at least occasionally), Jewish, and very very funny. Recognizing that she got what she asked for, she kicked herself for forgetting to ask for height. Jerry is a full head shorter. Well, as in the quote from “Some Like It Hot,” “No one’s perfect.” Still, the Mariette of today is still laughing (and snorting—listen for it) at his jokes.

The film is filled to the brim with actors famous and/or recognizable in fun cameos. John Rubinstein brings gravitas to the role of a surgeon who saves Mariette’s life; Bernie Kopell, from “Love Boat” fame, helps bring them together on a tennis court with character actor Sam McMurray, (you’ve seen him in everything from “Raising Arizona” to “Mom,”) the very definition of “I know I’ve seen him before.” The scene in a casting office as Mariette sits with Oscar-nominated Tess Harper and Morgan Fairchild, sex symbol of eighties now playing glamorous grandmas, waiting to audition for a twenty-something casting assistant who mangles their names and has no clue who any of them are. It’s priceless.

Hillary Anne Matthews Jacson, Mariette Hartley, Morgan Fairchild, Tess Harper (l-r)

But taking the cake are the dating scenes as both Jerry and Mariette try to navigate the detritus of dating sites. Mariette’s first is with an eager man who prefers “early bird specials,” splitting the bill, and obtaining an autograph for his elderly mother (a hilariously obtuse Peter Onorati). When, at the end of the painful evening, he accompanies her home, he asks if he can come in. “No, Ernie. You can’t.” “But my name is Eric.” “Neither of you can come in.” Jerry may be the comedian in the family but Mariette has razor sharp comedic timing that is in full view.

Jerry’s Waterloo is Maxine (a very funny Mindy Sterling), a woman of enormous appetite, at least for food, who informs him, as she devours a plate of ribs, French fries and onion rings, that she is financially tapped out after her divorce so he shouldn’t expect a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. After watching her consume a mile high dessert of chocolate (“it’s an antioxidant”), whipped cream, ice cream and raspberries, she need not worry.

Mariette’s date from hell, as if the first one wasn’t enough, was with someone she calls “psycho date” played by a demonically serious Peter MacNicol as he describes how he disposed of a body off the Long Beach Pier. “Do you want dessert?” It’s tough out there.

What the film does best, and we most appreciated, was a clear-eyed view, both sentimental and straightforward, because those are two entirely different things, of the challenges faced when getting older but still having an unquenchable passion for life with the right partner. That search is not for sissies and the challenges don’t stop with the hunt.

Peter MacNicol

This age group is neglected in the media and yet these are the baby boomers, and we’re a huge part of the population. Everyone wants to see themselves on screen and there has been progress at least in the depiction of people of color (under a certain age). But Seniors? Not so much. Yes, movies with big stars like Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin, Candace Bergen, and Diane Keaton are made occasionally. But where are the everyday stories? Is it because movie and television executives have no collective movie memory? Does anyone, besides Meryl Streep, cease to be an employable actor after the age of 55? Well, actually, as per usual, Hollywood is forgiving of men over the age of 70, like Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro. Google the top 50 actors over 70 and you’ll come up with 11 women, two of whom are dead. Why is it that the French still write for “women of a certain age” who aren’t Isabelle Huppert (who still has her choice of anything she wants)?

This isn’t really about ageism (although I suppose it is) but shame on all the streaming services that turned down this film for demographic reasons (media speak for “old”). It’s a hole that should be filled. Slight, funny, romantic with serious undercurrents, and very inexpensive (maybe not for Jerry and Mariette but on a cost scale of 1-10, it was a 2). Word to streamers: this slice of the audience might actually subscribe if you put something on for them. And yes, unlike the Mariette in the film, we do know how to use a remote.

I really liked this movie and not just because I knew the story and the protagonists; I liked it because it was fun, well-made, and hit the target. Jerry and Mariette will continue to share a love story, but wasn’t it nice that they shared it with us? So, no, I’m not a disinterested party but if I hadn’t liked it, I wouldn’t have written about it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the lead up to the opening; the joy of making it and the difficulties of getting it seen. So, on to the next and I hope there will be one because these two have a talent that hasn’t diminished with age.

Watch it on VOD on most cable and streaming outlets.

Neely Swanson spent most of her professional career in the television industry, almost all of it working for David E. Kelley. In her last full-time position as Executive Vice President of Development, she reviewed writer submissions and targeted content for adaptation. As she has often said, she did book reports for a living. For several years she was a freelance writer for “Written By,” the magazine of the WGA West, and was adjunct faculty at USC in the writing division of the School of Cinematic Arts. Neely has been writing film and television reviews for the “Easy Reader” for more than 10 years. Her past reviews can be read on Rotten Tomatoes where she is a tomato-approved critic.

Share Post