Director: Stanley Donen | Runtime: 1h 51mins | Drama, Romance, Comedy
Mark (Albert Finney) and Joanna’s (Audrey Hepburn) rocky marriage is shown at different times in their ten year commitment to each other, all of which are during their times travelling through Europe.
Romance is mostly summed up by it’s most formulaic examples, those movies that have been spewed out for decades about finding yours truly. But not enough plaudits are given to the movies that see Romance as a spectrum rather than a formula. Finding specific moments and themes outside of the “boy meets girl” format, and Two For the Road is one of the best examples. It chronicles the ten year marriage of Mark and Joanna, from their beginnings as a bright-eyed couple and all the complications that follow.
A mere glance may tell you that this is nothing more than a rom-com lost in the shuffle, with two exceptionally attractive leads, Hepburn’s iconic look is rich throughout every scene, as well as comedy that feels like it’s fresh from a ‘meet-cute’. But what Donen and screenwriter Frederic Raphael do is focus on the personalities of both characters, and through some exquisite time-hopping make a clear study of what it means to be married. It follows the couple on their numerous trips across France, as youthful travellers, to newlyweds, to eventual work travel. There’ enough of these hops in time to be confusing, but the film balances them so well that each one is pivotal to the progression, or digression, of their marriage.
This technique is something we see in 2010’s Blue Valentine, but Two For the Road is much less morbid with it’s character interactions. Also, it flourishes effortlessly between numerous stations they’ve held on the French coast, not just the beginnings but their doubles trip with an insufferable couple and their devilish child, as well as their trip as young parents, where the cracks begin to show. But it’s how the movie blends these scenes, it isn’t just non-linear for the sake of it, all of them are used to juxtapose another, when they are happy we quickly get to see how time has effected them, and when they are unhappy we are treated to the early days of young love. We get to witness natural change in the most heartbreaking ways because of the happiness we see just 10 minutes prior, and this is down to a near perfect script from Frederic Raphael.
Unhappiness seeps through this film, but it’s optimism begins to creep in near the end, and for the film to be so bold in it’s change it deserves so much praise.
There are beautiful little details as well, as their first trip sees them looking through a window at an arguing couple. Their optimism and jokes are bittersweet, like they are looking through at a ghost of marriage’s future – unknowing of the bleak future they hold together. But the screenplay also takes it time with character, Joanna turns from a fun-loving girl to a bitter wife, just wanting the simpler life back. Whereas Mark goes from a charming but firm lad (something Albert Finney is wonderful at), to a tired and snappy workaholic. Neither are faithful in their time together, but both do it in search of something away from the unhappiness they share.
The film’s opinion on marriage is a dismal one throughout the film, until the ending. It’s neither a Hollywood happy ending (despite Hepburn’s literal use of the phrase) or a bleak altercation between the two. The film would rather prove it’s maturity by smartly showing you the truth in the relationship. Marriage is much more than an empty “I love you”, but rather a commitment that you ride together or die, and the film knows that. Sure unhappiness seeps through this film, but it’s optimism begins to creep in near the end, and for the film to be so bold in it’s change it deserves so much praise.
It sweeps between time and mood with the passing of a car or the pour of a teapot, but it all culminates into such a fascinating dissection of marriage. Both leads delightfully embrace the anti-romcom formula by creating complexity in their characters, and thanks to a dynamite script we are gifted one of the best movies of it’s decade. It’s emotionally draining, but the reasons to watch this are incredibly stacked.