Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Two for the Road

The best movie I’ve seen in many a moon is “Two for the Road” (1967), a funny, sad, wistful and bittersweet look at a fading marriage. The couple, Mark and Joanna Wallace, is played by Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, and you can’t get better than that.

Despite the film coming from a major studio (20th Century Fox) and directed by studio veteran Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain”), the film resembles a 1960s European film, jumping backwards and forwards and sideways in time.

“Two for the Road” film starts with the Wallaces arguing, bitterly unhappy and on the verge of divorce. As we get to know the couple better, we see them experience the ebbs and flows of a relationship: first time meeting, carefree days of first love, marriage, children, affairs, and constant arguing. As I said, this is not a traditional narrative, but constantly jumps back and forth between the five stages of their relationship.

Because so much of the movie has to do with their adventures while traveling, we always understand where we are by identifying the cars they’re driving and watching Hepburn’s hairstyles. The cars get more lavish and the hairstyles more ornate the more successful they become…and more unhappy. Only once or twice was confused as to where the couple were in their relationship, but it only took a few moments to re-adjust.

This type of jumbled narrative usually gets on my nerves, but it works here. A big help is the title song by Henry Mancini, a gorgeous melody offering countless variations and flexible enough to fit any situation. It’s one of his loveliest compositions.

It’s not all heartbreak. The initial courtship scenes are a lot of fun, as are the scenes where the Wallaces take a driving vacation through Europe with Mark’s old flame (Eleanor Bron from “Help!”), her stuck-up and anal husband Howard (William Daniels) and their demon spawn of a daughter Ruthie. Very funny, and there’s some engaging set pieces involving other driving adventures (to say more would spoil it for first-time viewers).

This narrative approach means all the funny, sweet stuff is not frontloaded at the beginning, but scattered throughout.

Hepburn is luminous as ever. She might be a little too old for Finney, but she’s so gorgeous and likeable you don’t care. Finney is very loose and carefree, and you can why he would capture the heart of free spirit Hepburn.

The European backgrounds, the Mancini score, the deft directorial touches of Stanley Donen and one of Hepburn’s best performances make this a true film classic.

Rating for “Two for the Road”: Three and a half stars.

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