Director: Stanley Donen
Screenplay: Frederic Raphael
Starring: Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney, Eleanor Bron, William Daniels
Producer: Stanley Donen
Running Time: 111 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
With a library as strong as theirs, I have a trust in Eureka's Masters of Cinema collection where I will happily watch pretty much any of the films they release. This trust has paid dividends and I've discovered numerous films over the years that I wouldn't normally have given a second glance but turn out to be amazing. What pleases one might not please another though and every release can't always blow me away. Stanley Dolan's Two For the Road is one such a film. I hadn't heard of it before, but with a decent cast, celebrated director and the Masters of Cinema seal of approval I gave it a shot. It wasn't a total misfire, but the film wasn't one of the revelations I hope I'll find each time I put a disc from the prestigious label in my player.
Before I explain why the film wasn't for me, let me tell you more about it. Two For the Road opens with an unhappily married couple, Mark (Albert Finney) and Joanna (Audrey Hepburn), travelling through Central Europe from England. As they ponder whether or not they should give up and get a divorce, we are taken back to three previous journeys in the same area they shared at different stages of their relationship. By jumping between the four stories, we see the ins and outs and the ups and downs of love and marriage.
Like the characters in the film, I had a rocky journey with this one. I really struggled with the first half, finding it very slow and unengaging. However, as the film moved on it grew on me and I got more engaged in the latter half. Also, when I went back to watch the film with the commentary, I found myself better appreciating the earlier portions of the film.
This wasn't enough for me to fully reappraise the film and learn to love it though. What made the first half a chore was the lack of drive (no pun intended). With no real narrative to follow, the pace becomes rather ponderous. I can live with a slow pace and lack of narrative though if I've got something else to grasp on to, but I really struggled to find anything in that first hour or so.
The main gripe I had was with Albert Finney. I couldn't stand his character for one. He's an arsehole at the start of their relationship and even more of one at the end (or when the film ends should I say). I struggled to see what Hepburn's character saw in him and I just didn't care about him. Also, and this seems wrong to say as he's such a respected actor, I didn't think much of Finney's performance. Maybe it's the character, but he felt a bit one-note and his comic delivery did nothing for me. In fact a number of the actors rubbed me up the wrong way (except Hepburn, because I can't help but adore her). Maybe it's the dialogue, but the delivery had a falseness to it that I couldn't shake. People talk in lines rather than speak to each other. I don't mind this in a lot of styles of film, but I felt it didn't fit with the drama here, which feels very natural and potentially could have been very powerful. The structure and subject matter brought to mind Blue Valentine, but this doesn't have anywhere near the strength of that film.
Of course, this is a comedy-drama rather than a straight up drama though, so it was never going to be the slit-your-wrists emotional wringer that Blue Valentine was. Unfortunately, the comedy was another bugbear I had with the film. I just didn't find it funny. Some of the lines are nicely barbed, but the delivery doesn't do them justice and then you get some broad gags thrown in too which don't work at all. Tonally the film feels a bit unsure of itself because of this mix too.
It's not all bad though. Like I said, the film did draw me in eventually. It's a clever concept, especially for the time and it's well constructed too. Some clever editing and match cutting is used to move us between storylines. It's an ambitious idea which is pulled off very well.
The scenes set further in the past during happier times grow warmer as the films goes on too. At first the connection between the couple isn't evident, but a couple of nice scenes later on help establish the roots of the relationship. One where the couple get sunburnt but want to make love is a nice touch in particular.
The more bitter scenes contain some strong truths too, which few films, even today, address. I've only been married for four years, but I could relate to some of the more difficult aspects of marriage and parenthood, even though we haven't experienced anywhere near the rocky patches Mark and Joanna go through. It made me think about how hard it is to maintain a marriage, even a happy one. It relies on a complicated balance of needs and emotions. The film displays this without sugar coating anything which is admirable.
Overall though it was the execution of the film which let things down for me. The content is very strong, but the performances and odd tonal mix didn't work in my opinion. Which is a shame, because most of the elements were in place for something special. Beautifully shot locations, a cast that should shine (but don't in my eyes) and an interesting and original concept and script.
Still, it didn't disappoint me enough for me to lose my trust in the Masters of Cinema series. I'll still be eagerly anticipating their next release.
Two For the Road is out on 19th January in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. I watched the blu-ray disc and the picture quality is stunning. The colours are bold and the picture is clean and clear without looking doctored. Audio is strong and clean too.
You get two solid extra features with the film. Stanley Donen provides an audio commentary which is very informative and he makes a great speaker, although he dries up a bit as it goes on and goes quiet for good chunks of the time. The second feature is a French language interview with the writer Frederic Raphael. This is a great addition and gives a lot of information about inspirations behind the script, including elements taken from his own marriage.
Finally (on top of the usual trailer), as always with Masters of Cinema releases, you get a leaflet in with the package. This is made up of an essay from Jessica Felrice on the film.