WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
Sophisticated, Modern, Stylish
There will be forever two periods in my life: Before Two for the Road and After Two for the Road. I am amazed, and yet disappointed in myself, that I hadn’t seen this 1967 masterpiece sooner, especially given my obsession with films of the “Hollywood revolution” which most film historians agree began in 1967. Let’s face it, my obsession with film doesn’t have to be qualified by any period, or genre, it is just there…all the time.
Two for the Road is dazzlingly directed by Stanley Donen, who was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award for this film, but not an OSCAR?-and written by brilliant Oscar winning screenwriter, Frederic Raphael, who is still on the planet (88 years old)-and stars the impossibly attractive Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn. They have tremendous chemistry; Finney and Hepburn are real movie stars. No insult to the great actors we have working today in film, but Albert and Audrey are luminous, charismatic, larger than life, untouchable, but somehow relatable, especially as a married couple examining their ten year rocky marriage. Of course Hepburn is elegant and glamorous (get a load of her wardrobe team in the credits) but Hepburn was never expected to become a movie star, with her gamine, boyish looks, and curve less figure.
Most people think of Albert Finney in his middle and later years, where he was known as a very respected multi Oscar nominated character actor. Attractiveness wasn’t something associated with him. But, in Two for the Road, Finney is the epitome of male beauty on film. Hepburn may get close-ups through a gauzy lens but Finney is no less stunning.
The film uses a lot of swinging sixties cinematic techniques, like fast editing, freeze-frames, jump cuts and glossy color, but the boldest stroke of storytelling is the achronological (a pretentious word, I admit) storytelling. Told in a series of road trips that the couple takes (Mark and Joanna) including the one where they first meet, their honeymoon, a disastrous trip with a boorish, bourgeois American couple with a daughter from hell and the current –well nothing is current in the film – present trip. Admittedly it is challenging to follow the story and exactly where we are in the relationship/marriage chronologically, but the brilliant Donen uses so many great visual cues: The actors’ clothes and hair styles, the car they are driving at the time-great match cuts are used. The non-linear, sometimes elliptical, vignette story telling serves two major purposes. 1. It keeps the film fluid, light and helps it eschew both melodrama and romantic sentiment 2. It serves as a metaphor for the ups and downs of marriage: they will always be there, no matter what decade your marriage is in-and you won’t be able to remember necessarily when the bad or great stuff happened-just that it did, and you move onward together.
A downside to this collage technique of story-telling might be emotional aloofness, the glib glide over emotional moments or character empathy. However the film dodges this trap. Take the brilliant scene where Joanna, wide awake in bed after a big fight, glances at the sleeping Mark and her face reads “I cannot believe I am married to him.”
Bittersweet, imaginative, fast-paced, gorgeous, intelligent and still remarkably relevant today – Two for the Road restores my faith in movie making. Throw in a groovy sixties credit sequence, gorgeous European locations and lush Henry Mancini score and I am in love, with this unconventional love story.
Stream on Amazon Prime for a small fee and available on DVD rental from Netflix.