Tuesday 11 August 2015

Movie Review: Barefoot In The Park (1967)

The literal and figurative ups and downs in the lives of a newlywed couple, Barefoot In The Park is a tender comedy capturing the rollercoaster early days of marriage.

Paul (Robert Redford) and Corie (Jane Fonda) are New York newlyweds and very much in love. They spend their honeymoon ensconced at a Plaza Hotel room for six days. Corie is uninhibited, loves life and takes risks. Paul is a junior lawyer and much more reserved. When real life has to get started, they rent a small fifth floor apartment in a walk-up building with no elevator. The apartment is cramped, has no heat, and a hole in the skylight. Corie's adventurous spirit allows her to make do, and she turns the apartment into a home. But her desire to maintain a newlywed spirit is thwarted by Paul's stiff focus on his career.

They meet their exotic and elderly but young-at-heart neighbour Victor (Charles Boyer), who lives in an attic apartment above them, and Corie hits on the idea of introducing Victor to her lonely mother Ethel (Mildred Natwick). As Victor and Ethel embark on a wildly unpredictable relationship, Corie and Paul arrive at a crisis point, as his inability to loosen up clashes with her desire to enjoy life to the fullest.

A Neil Simon play adaptation directed by Gene Saks, Barefoot In The Park is a humorous look at the expectations and disappointments in the early days of couplehood. The film moves briskly through the stages of a young marriage, from sex obsession to optimistic homemaking, through to the early challenges of routine separation and then a first full-blown crisis. Paul and Corie do pack in a lot of married life into 106 minutes of screen time, but Saks keeps it generally breezy until a slightly draggy final 15 minutes.

Simon wrote the screenplay, and the film is undoubtedly stage bound, with most of the action unfolding within the cramped fifth floor apartment. But this is a film that benefits from the confined location, allowing a deep focus on two characters learning what it means to start a new life together. The apartment itself becomes an essential character, and a metaphor for life's challenges. The five flights of stairs, the lack of heat, the broken skylight and the tiny bedroom, not to mention the peculiar upstairs neighbour, are the initial set of tests that Paul and Corie have to navigate, as life starts them out with niggling obstacles that they can either learn to overcome together or argue about.

Barefoot In The Park tests the hypothesis that opposites can attract, and Simon creates in Corie and Paul two different characters who nevertheless may be a perfect match. Corie wants to run headlong into whatever life has to offer and wants to have fun while embracing every new experience. Paul is much more responsible, feeling the pressure of trying to establish himself in his career and therefore more easily distracted from the task of marriage-building. As a couple they are deeply in love and good together but also susceptible to disappointing each other. The film probes both the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship, asking what changes they each have to make to transform two individuals into one couple.

Jane Fonda brings Corie to life with a mix of sexy playfulness and well-reasoned stubbornness. Robert Redford is more reserved as he reprises his stage role, but he does have more of a brewing conflict to deal with: a realization that life now is quite different, with a new partner to be kept satisfied outside the law firm. Charles Boyer and Mildred Natwick provide memorably eccentric support in the roles of Victor and Ethel. They provide comic relief and serve as an example to the young couple of how affairs of the heart rarely follow a script.

Funny, witty and dramatic when it needs to be, Barefoot In The Park is a droll stroll.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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