Thursday, September 27, 2007

2 FOR 2

Last Friday, my wife and I attended a WHC showing of Stanley Donen's Two for the Road (1967), starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn. It's a movie best seen with someone you're married to. It features a series of continuous "presents" from the course of a long-standing marriage, all involving road travel in France, from the "cute meet" of Marcus and Joanna in their twenties, hitching (when they find "their" spot on the Mediterranean), to the "family trip" with Marc's old flame, her "anal" husband and recalcitrant brat of a daughter (full of amusing tensions, and the humor of the husband's Freud-speak), the "getaway" trip in the ailing MG (when Joanna announces she's pregnant and they encounter Maurice, the rich tycoon who becomes a kind of overbearing patron to young architect Marc), Marc's solo visit for Maurice where he has a quick fling with a blonde in a convertible, to the trip with their own daughter Caroline (where the stress of playing mommy and daddy is convincingly expressed in a few deft scenes), to the visit at "their spot," which has now become a resort thanks to Maurice, when Joanna encounters Philippe and has a brief affair, to the present where they ride together -- again to Maurice's -- more or less trying to determine the fate of the marriage. All these different visits are interspersed at will and jump-cut in a lively, enjoyable fashion from one to another.

The most affecting -- in the grand romantic comedy tradition of good-looking people having a good time -- are the "first encounter" tour and the MG trip: points when the romance is alive and well and they have all the world before them, so to speak. The film does a good job of keeping all its balls in the air -- in each visit there is something at stake, so each plays a part in our view of how this couple develops as a couple -- and Finney and Hepburn do a great job of maintaining "the chemistry" that is the heart and soul of any long-term relationship, even when flagrant infidelity "just happens." Probably the first time I saw this film I was more critical of how it maintains such a sunny mood, for the most part, not really going into the wedded doldrums that are de rigueur for most restless spouse set-ups (as in the "let's talk it to death" manner of some Woody Allen movies -- Two is closest to Annie Hall for sheer fun). Marc and Jo do talk it out, but mainly in the latter-day car ride, and they do argue, but what the film is more concerned with showing is how they click and how that "click" keeps coming back, no matter what.

It's a good marriage movie for that reason. Most romantic comedies are about the getting together while overcoming hilarious obstacles, or about the "new romance" that threatens the old, until everyone manages to shrug it off in some scene that is the cinematic equivalent of roses and chocolates. This film is about the marriage, the long durée, and anyone who's been in some version of one can find echoes, memories, occasions to cram into the interstices of the scenes on the screen -- though mine, speaking personally, were poorer for want of a French countryside to play out against. It's also my favorite Hepburn role and my favorite young Finney movie: Hepburn's eyes were never used to better effect, nor Finney's irrepressibly winning smile. It ends with a kiss and the tender endearments "Bitch." "Bastard." See it with someone you've loved for decades.

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