(Directed by Stanley Donen) (1967)
Boy meets girl; boy detests girl (“If there’s one thing I really despise, it’s an indispensable woman”); boy changes his mind; they fall in love and then spoil it all by getting married. Then they compound the error by having a kid (breaking Philip Larkin’s dictum in This Be the Verse). Two For the Road, for all its self-conscious charm, relentless male chauvinism and fey hipness, is something of a breakthrough – a love story that deconstructs what happens when the love fades, or more accurately, transforms from its first flushes into a more mature kind of understanding and devotion.
Audrey Hepburn (a one-trick pony but very good at it) and Albert Finney (doing his best Richard Burton impression) are very good, even though they hardly age over the decade. That’s not too much of a problem because the film swings dizzyingly back and forward along the space-time continuum, centred on the various (and increasingly nice) cars in which the leads are sitting as they galivant about the French countryside. We don’t notice too much the Dorian Gray effect because we’re too busy trying to keep up with flashbacks, flash-forwards and the occasional flash-sideways.
Mark is the brilliant young architect; Jo is a brilliant young something. From a (suspiciously comfortable) poverty row they ascend to the jet-set. Instead of hitching around France they now drive their sports car onto a plane. But something’s missing. Mark deals with this murky lacuna by sinking himself into his work, casual adultery and a lack of attention to domestic duties; Jo falls into the spurious arms of chinless Lothario, David (Georges Descrières, sans souci in a fetching white skivvy). Along the way, their trajectory is interspersed with various memories of their travels, some of which are très amusant.
The best bit is where the couple ramble with Howie and Cathy Maxwell-Manchester (William Daniels and Eleanor Bron) and their hateful, loathsome daughter Ruthie (a should-have-got-an-Oscar-performance by Gabrielle Middleton). Howie keeps a book on expenses and sticks to a tight holiday schedule; Cathy (an old flame of Mark’s) snipes in a smiley way about Jo (“…how come Mommy said Joanna was a suburban English nobody?”) And Ruthie is….Ruthie.
Donen (On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Charade) knows how to handle stars and has an innovative approach, and Frederic Raphael (The Glittering Prizes) pens plenty of one-liners, some of which come with barbs. Two For the Road is a little corny, but as they say, the colour of corn is gold.