Stanley & Iris

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Stanley & Iris
Stan iris moviep.jpg
original film poster for Stanley & Iris
Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Arlene Sellers
Allen Winitsky
Written by Harriet Frank, Jr.
Irving Ravetch (screenplay)
Based on the novel Union Street by Pat Barker
Starring Jane Fonda
Robert De Niro
Swoosie Kurtz
Martha Plimpton
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Edited by Sidney Levin
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • February 9, 1990 (1990-02-09)
Running time
104 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $23 million[1]
Box office $5,820,015

Stanley & Iris (1990) is a romantic drama film directed by Martin Ritt and starring Jane Fonda and Robert De Niro. The screenplay by Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch is loosely based on the novel Union Street by Pat Barker.

The original music score is composed by John Williams and the cinematography is by Donald McAlpine. The film was marketed with the tagline "Some people need love spelled out for them." It was the final film that Ritt directed, and he died months after the film's release.

Plot summary[edit]

Iris King works in a baking factory in Connecticut. Still getting over the recent death of her husband, she lives from paycheck to paycheck as she raises her two children, Kelly and Richard. Also staying with her are her unemployed sister Sharon and Sharon's abusive husband Joe. Iris lives in a high crime area. With money already tight for the family, Kelly discovers she is pregnant which makes matters worse.

One of the few bright spots in her life is her blossoming friendship with Stanley Cox, a nice guy whom she first meets when he comes to her aid after her purse is stolen by a thug. Stanley works in the bakery's staff cafeteria, but as their friendship develops, Iris starts noticing some peculiarities about him. He becomes frustrated when asked to sign his name, and cannot pick out an item correctly from a shelf. He also cannot drive, rides a bicycle and still lives with his elderly father.

Iris realizes that Stanley is illiterate. When she innocently makes this known to his manager, Stanley gets fired as his manager feels his illiteracy could cause health and safety problems, despite the fact that he is a good cook and a model employee. After being fired, Stanley has to move and put his father in a shabby retirement home. Stanley himself begins living in a garage while taking odd jobs as a cleaner and laborer. His father later dies at the home, leaving Stanley upset that he couldn't take care of him. Stanley finds Iris and asks her to teach him to read. He explains his father was a traveling salesman and they moved constantly when Stanley was a boy so he bounced from school to school and never learned to read or write.

Stanley starts reading lessons with Iris and grows close to her and her family. When Iris complains that she's constantly tired and stuck in a rut, Stanley tells her to take a break while he does her household chores for her as he continues his reading exercises. He also tells her that he's been wanting to get intimate with her since they first met, but Iris is hesitant.

Iris decides to test Stanley's reading skills by giving him a map and telling him to meet her at a certain street corner within 15 minutes, but Stanley gets lost. Hours later, he finally reaches the intended corner to find Iris frantically waiting. Stanley is frustrated and embarrassed, and marches off home by himself, his interest in learning to read lost. Some time later, Iris sees Stanley in the park, but he maintains his aloofness. However, Iris is not ready to quit. She feels she made a mistake by pushing Stanley too soon, and goes to see him in his garage home. She wants him to continue learning how to read. As she looks around, she sees a large mechanical project that Stanley is creating, as he invents things as a hobby. He has built a cake-cooling machine that will out-perform anything in the market place. Iris is immensely impressed and learns that a company have shown interest in Stanley's machine and offered him a job, but he didn't pursue it because of his illiteracy. Stanley agrees to start reading again with Iris, and within time he has learned to write short sentences. Stanley cooks a big dinner for Iris and her family, and the two of them begin to grow close again. Noticing his threadbare jacket, Iris offers him a better one which had belonged to her husband. He takes the jacket, but reminds Iris that it isn't her husband who is wearing it.

After Kelly has her baby, Iris is displeased when she drops out of school and starts working at the bakery as she doesn't want her daughter to waste her life in a dead-end job like she is. Stanley and Iris finally decide to make love, but Iris is still clinging to the memory of her husband and gets upset. This threatens their budding relationship further and they don't see each other for some time. Not prepared to give up on Iris the way she never gave up on him, Stanley goes to see her. He tells her that his inventions have finally paid off and he's been offered a good job in Detroit and is moving there. He tells Iris how grateful he is to her and that he'll be back. Iris shows him a letter she wrote him but never mailed. She is impressed when Stanley reads it perfectly. He and Iris go to a public library where Stanley successfully reads out loud from a selection of books to show her he can now read anything. Stanley takes her to a fancy hotel where they order room service and spend the night together, though this time Iris is prepared to let go of the past.

Stanley then goes to Detroit for his new job. After several months, Iris is walking home when an expensive car pulls up next to her and she is surprised to find Stanley behind the wheel. Stanley tells her that he's been given a raise and is looking to buy a large six-bedroom house in Detroit...and that he wants her to move there with him as his wife. Iris accepts.

Main cast[edit]

Actor Role
Jane Fonda Iris King
Robert De Niro Stanley Cox
Swoosie Kurtz Sharon
Martha Plimpton Kelly King
Harley Cross Richard King
Jamey Sheridan Joe
Feodor Chaliapin, Jr. Leonides Cox
Zohra Lampert Elaine
Loretta Devine Bertha
Kathy Kinney Bernice
Stephen Root Mr. Hershey


Stanley & Iris: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Film score by John Williams
Released 1990
Length 28:56
Label Varese Sarabande
John Williams chronology
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Stanley & Iris
Home Alone
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Filmtracks 2/5 stars

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Length
1. "Stanley and Iris"   3:24
2. "Reading Lessons"   2:26
3. "The Bicycle"   3:07
4. "Factory Work"   1:23
5. "Finding a Family"   1:41
6. "Stanley at Work"   1:31
7. "Looking after Papa"   3:10
8. "Stanley's Invention"   1:17
9. "Night Visit"   1:58
10. "Letters"   3:25
11. "Putting it all Together"   1:46
12. "End Credits"   3:03


  • This film was shot on location in Toronto, Ontario, and Waterbury, Connecticut. During the filming in Waterbury, local Vietnam War veterans picketed the production protesting Jane Fonda's anti-war activities of a decade and a half earlier.[1]
  • Fonda and De Niro were each paid $3.5 million for their performances. Ritt received $1.65 million and the Ravetches $500,000.[1]


Stanley & Iris received negative reviews from critics, as the film holds a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also a commercial failure at the box office, grossing less than $6 million against its $23 million budget.


  1. ^ a b c Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 253-255

External links[edit]