❉ Stanley Donen’s New Wave influenced romantic comedy starring Albert Finney & Audrey Hepburn.
Stanley Donen’s 1967 British marriage dramedy Two for the Road is a motion picture that I wish I had seen sooner in my life. Written by the great Frederic Raphael (who would receive an Oscar nomination for his brilliant work and who would later collaborate with Stanley Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut), the film is witty, serious, subtle, and totally made in that late ‘60’s style and spirit, a true acting piece with fabulous performances from Albert Finney, Audrey Hepburn, Eleanor Bron, William Daniels, and a child performance of purposefully staggering annoyance by Gabrielle Middleton, who you literally just want to leave on the side of the road.
Seriously: Everyone is amazing in this film, but just wait until you see Middleton; you’ll want to jump inside of your television screen and do things that might get you arrested. But she’s great in the part, even if it might be hard to fully recognize this fact right off the bat.
The multilayered narrative centers on a husband and wife (Finney and Hepburn) who begin to examine and reminisce over their 12 year relationship while taking an emotionally taxing trip to Southern France. A very, very beautiful Southern France. Various events from their lives are crisscrossed throughout the script, with former lovers making appearances, potential new lovers becoming a possibility, and a constant sense of “anything-might-happen” driving the story. Kind of like how things go down in real life, and that’s yet another great quality to this film; everything feels tangible and honest and relatable and scarily possible.
Raphael’s boldly non-linear screenplay makes some modern movies feel downright conventional, and I’d have to assume that back in the day, this narrative style really took people by surprise. I’d have to imagine that some cues were taken from the superb filmmaker Richard Lester in the aesthetic department, as well as how information is presented to the audience; Two for the Road would pair well with Lester’s 1968 masterpiece Petulia.
The relationship on display in Two for the Road is examined from multiple perspectives in multiple time periods, with both Finney and Hepburn running a gamut of emotions while hitting major life milestones, and contending with the birth of their daughter. Finney, in what can sort of be considered a warm up to his blistering work in Alan Parker’s brilliant 1982 drama Shoot the Moon, is fantastic as a man caught between his desire to be a loving husband and the man who he believes he is deep down inside, even if that’s not who he is in reality.
Hepburn, stunningly photographed and costumed in every scene, gets lots of laughs and enjoys playful banter with Finney, while also getting a chance to explore her dramatic side, especially during the emotionally volatile last act. Everyone surrounding them is excellent, but this really all about the two major stars and how they interact with each other on screen is really something special to observe.
I loved how in certain scenes, Donen would edit a bit sooner than normal, thus forcing the viewer to put some of the story pieces together on their own, and while nothing is left up in the air, the way that Raphael devised his tricky but coherent screenplay allows for all sorts of speculation about what’s in store for the various characters by the film’s conclusion. Not everything needs to be spelled out for the viewer while watching a film; there’s nuance to be found in life that the best filmmakers were able to then present on-screen, and Two for the Road is built upon as many small moments as it is the big, showy ones. The jaunty and spirited original score by Henry Mancini peppers each scene with distinct personality, and Donen’s New Wave-inspired aesthetic touches keep the film visually interesting (Christopher Challis served as cinematographer) and narratively unique. The film is also a feast for the eyes for anyone who considers themselves a vintage car enthusiast.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott, and co-operates the website Podcasting Them Softly.
❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.