Monday, 31 August 2020

Movie Review: Two For The Road (1967)

A romantic drama with a humorous bite, Two For The Road traces the multi-year history of one complicated mariage.

The film jumps between different time periods, starting with the present. Married for 12 years, successful architect Mark Wallace (Albert Finney) and his wife Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) start a vacation road trip in France, driving a white Mercedes convertible. They are tense with each other, both wondering if their marriage is worth saving. In multiple flashbacks, chapters from their lives together are revealed.

They met when Mark was a young architect visiting France on his own to photograph landmark buildings, and Joanna was part of a touring amateur singing group, and the only member to avoid a chicken pox outbreak. They traversed the countryside together for a week, fell in love and decided to get married, although Mark always expressed his distaste for commitment.

A few years later, as a happy couple they endured a road trip in the station wagon of Cathy and Howard Manchester-Maxwell (Eleanor Bron and William Daniels) and their daughter from hell Ruth. After barely surviving that ordeal, Mark and Joanna committed to only ever travel with each other.

The next road trip finds them traveling through France in an unreliable green MG, with Joanna announcing her pregnancy. On this trip they meet rich land developer Maurice (Claude Dauphin), who becomes Mark's most important but exceptionally demanding client. With the arrival of daughter Caroline, the stresses caused by Mark's narcissist tendencies and Joanna's emotional abandonment are laid bare.

With fast editing and frequent jumps to various milestone events within a 12 year history, director Stanley Donen creates an eclectic chronicle of marriage. Written by Frederic Raphael, Two For The Road benefits from excellent chemistry between stars Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, and presents a clear-eyed view of highlights and lowlights experienced by a passionate couple, all enlivened by a celebrated Henry Mancini soundtrack.

Love undoubtedly flourishes at the intersection of Mark's talkative confidence and Joanna's circumspect patience with playful inner strength. Finney and Hepburn convince as a couple with plenty to share, nurture and enjoy, creating a bond worth saving despite many spiky moments, barbs and bickering flowing in both directions. Gradually the film reveals their worst moments and fundamental betrayals, genuine affection deeply challenged by diverging attitudes towards his career commitment and her desire for a family.

Two For The Road embraces the definition of road trip in the automotive era, and cars with personalities play an important role in tracing the journey of this marriage. While Ms. Hepburn's hair, wardrobe and accessories provide generous assists, the various adventures are defined by vehicles. Wealth and success are represented by a swish Mercedes, happy newlywed struggles mean sharing the station wagon of the Manchester-Maxwells, and the barely functional MG plays an essential part in shaping the couple's destiny. A red roadster on a business trip warns of impending danger to the relationship.

Water is another recurring theme. Whether by the beach, next to a swimming pool, in a bathtub or under the rain, Mark and Joanna often have their union reinvigorated by a good soak.

The final third of Two For The Road hits a bumpy patch, Donen almost losing control of the steering wheel as the marriage veers off the road and the furious edits creep into dizzying where-are-we-now territory. But just like the connection between Mark and Joanna, the film is both malleable and sturdy, if not without visible stress marks.

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