"For Richer or Poorer is a romantic comedy about a couple who have
lost their way and drifted apart when their lofty financial goals cause
them to lose sight of each other," observes Tim Allen, who plays the
upwardly mobile real estate magnate in search of the next big scheme that
will make his fortune. "The film is exactly the kind of film I most
enjoy. It's funny, romantic and really touching. It's also about real values
that are inspiring," said producer Sid Sheinberg.
Handsome, charismatic and obsessed with conspicuous consumption, Brad Sexton
is the quintessential New York player at the top of his game. "He starts
out as a very materialistic guy who likes to buy expensive toys," explains
director Bryan Spicer.
The role of Brad is a calculated departure for Allen, who was ready to tackle
somewhat more sophisticated material after conquering the family comedy
market with his phenomenally-successful television series, now in its seventh
season on ABC, and three blockbuster films, including his memorable voice
work for the smash hit Toy Story. "This is a romantic comedy with a
more adult theme than the other films I've done so far," explains Allen.
It wasn't easy finding the perfect actress to play opposite Allen as Brad's
chain-smoking, air-kissing wife Caroline. The complicated character required
an actress capable of acting selfish and unsympathetic at times, while masking
vulnerability and "little girlishness." At the same time, she
had to be very, very funny. "The reason we chose Kirstie Alley was
because she was able to comedically keep up with Tim, and because the onscreen
chemistry between the two of them was so great," recalls Spicer.
Caroline Sexton is the embodiment of the arrogant Manhattan socialite wife
who has found her place on the arm of a successful husband. Explains Spicer,
"She's into high-maintenance beauty with all the dresses and hair and
makeup that come with that lifestyle."
But underneath the pretentious veneer lies the heart of a frustrated fashion
designer who has never had the courage to test her dreams. "Caroline
is a self-centered socialite bitch who has always had artistic aspirations
to be a clothing designer," says Kirstie Alley of her character.
On the verge of launching their latest moneymaking real estate gamble, "Holyland,"
a garish theme park based on the world of religion, Brad and Caroline are
also on the verge of divorce. But when an IRS audit finds them owing the
government millions in back taxes and their dishonest accountant (Seinfeld
's Wayne Knight) skips town, the estranged couple flee Manhattan together
in a stolen taxi. Desperate to shake off two highly aggressive IRS agents
(Larry Miller, Miguel Nunez Jr.), they wind up in the pastoral Amish community
of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, where they pose as Jacob and Emma Yoder, the
distant Missouri relatives of a local Amish family.
With no alternative but to live among these simple, upstanding people until
their financial and legal problems can be worked out, Brad and Caroline
are forced to become reacquainted with the most basic chores of life--and
ultimately with each other. "When they are forced to adopt the unassuming,
humble ways of the Amish, they learn what it really means to come back down
to life in the real world as they begin to fall in love with each other
again," notes Spicer.
Getting back to the simpler life proves a tougher journey than Brad and
Caroline could have ever expected. Their pampered Manhattan lifestyle is
a distant memory as they try to adapt to their new surroundings. Forced
to till the soil, tend the fields and bond with a formidable plowhorse named
Big John, Brad learns a greater appreciation for the land that he so hastily
commercialized in his former profession. Meanwhile, baking schnitz pies,
scrubbing floors, milking cows and feeding pigs, without benefit of cigarettes
or even lipstick, is a harrowing and humbling experience for the domestically-challenged
Says Allen, "Their money problems force them to look at their life
through a simpler view, taking all the stuff out of their life that means
nothing to them and coming to an understanding that what does mean something
to them is each other, hard work and reverence for their friends."
While adapting to the rigors of the Amish lifestyle, Caroline discovers
a purpose for her untested talent when she's given the opportunity to redesign
the drab dress code of her adopted community. Brad soon realizes that he
too has something to offer his new friends. His shrewd real estate acumen
proves a valuable resource to the polite and respectful Amish forced to
negotiate land-buys with the "English" (non-Amish).
"There is a little dose of reality in this story," Allen observes,
"as this couple learns that the things most important in life are those
that are probably right in front of them."
"Watching the Amish helps Brad and Caroline to get back to something
that was real between them as they get an insightful view of what married
life can be. I think that spiritual beliefs can turn you around to the enlightened
side of life," offers Alley.
Says Allen, "At the beginning, we're not very likable people. It was
a really tough arc for both characters through the course of the story.
But as we begin to fall in love again, I think the audience will change
its opinion of Brad and Caroline."
Allen concludes, "I'm not the most romantic guy in the world, but I
loved the notion of this couple falling in love with each other again."
For Richer or Poorer is a study in contrasts, with the Sexton's glamorous
lifestyle in New York and their humble surroundings in the rural Pennsylvania
Amish country reflecting the two diametrically opposed ends of the spectrum.
Director Bryan Spicer and his creative team set out to underscore the story's
central conflict in distinctly visual and cinematic terms.
"In this film, New York feels more like cold steel and glass, gold
and silver, very lavish in stark contrast to the Amish country, which is
characterized by lush green rolling hills and colorful flowers," Spicer
notes. "In Manhattan, everybody is dressed in flashy, extravagant gowns
and expensive tailored suits. In the country, everything is very simple
and very plain."
Principal photography began in April 1997 in Baltimore, Maryland--which
effectively captured the look of Pennsylvania's Amish country with a wide
variety of visually striking locations. A spacious farm in rural Westminster
provided the film's central setting, with the company's art department (under
the supervision of production designer Stephen Hendrickson) stripping the
existing working farm of all visible connections to contemporary technology
that would not be found in an authentic Amish home.
Other Baltimore-based locations included another farm nearby in historic
Havre de Grace, Main Street in downtown Westminster (which served as the
Amish community of Intercourse, Pennsylvania), and an authentic-but-ancient
general store located in Muddy Creek Forks, Pennsylvania.
Early in the pre-production process, the filmmakers retained the services
of John King as the project's Amish technical advisor. King lived in Lancaster
County, Pennsylvania and was born and raised Amish until he left the faith
when he turned 18 years old. King interfaced with every department on the
crew and consulted often with the actors in an effort to depict the Amish
lifestyle as realistically as possible.
"Tim Allen was concerned about whether this story could really happen,"
says King. "I told him that it could. The Amish are traditionally very
open to helping people--doing what they can for people in need."
"King was able to gain access to Amish homes that the normal outsider
would never see," says Hendrickson. "We got a behind-the-scenes
look at Amish life, which was very important to capturing the authenticity
Costume designer Abigail Murray agrees, "John King took me to a local
historian who had Amish clothing from the 1920's. Clothes were made more
purely then than what you get today, so I borrowed several items and had
a draper take them apart to make patterns from them."
Production shifted to New York City for two final weeks of exterior sequences
that bookend the film's pastoral setting.
"In New York, we picked locations that were not just big, but enormous,
grand, spectacular--all of which reflect the world of money and society
that Brad and Caroline Sexton move through," notes Hendrickson.