The Way We Were (1973)
The Way We Were (1973)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 58 min.

Release Date: October 19th, 1973 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Sydney Pollack Actors: Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Bradford Dillman, Lois Chiles, Patrick O’Neal, Viveca Lindfors, Allyn Ann McLerie, Murray Hamilton, Diana Ewing, Sally Kirkland

 


 

K

atie (Barbra Streisand) doesn’t get much respect at work, where her opportunities for improvising are met with scolding from her boss Bill (Herb Edelman). All he really wants is for her to get him a cup of coffee, rather than addressing issues with the script as they direct radio show recordings. Later, at a party, she runs into former crush Hubbell (Robert Redford), now in a military uniform, spurring memories of their days in college, when she was a student activist (anti-war and president of the Young Communist League) and he was a popular jock. “You think politics is a joke.”

The film flashes back to the ’30s, when Hubbell concerns himself with having fun and excelling in sports, while Katie organizes peace rallies, works at a diner, and struggles to get Hubbell out of her mind. She’s serious, he’s generally happy; she’s always thinking about the future and the bigger picture, while he lives in the moment, celebrating the little things. They couldn’t be more disparate in conduct and philosophies. And it doesn’t help that Hubbell has a girlfriend (Lois Chiles as Carol Ann).

A considerable portion of the film isn’t focused so much on what the characters have done or will do, but rather the various ways in which they become closer or farther apart – oftentimes at Katie’s embarrassing or teary expense. She’s desperate to have some semblance of a relationship with Hubbell, but he’s occasionally indifferent to her presence (or turned off by her propensity for quarreling), resulting in some achingly romantic, bittersweet sequences. One of the most heartbreaking involves her sneaking into bed beside him, imagining what it would be like to be his lover, as he lies unaware in a drunken slumber.

As they move in different directions, alternately guided by superiors, the looming war, and political leanings, their paths cross for brief spans of time, again generating powerfully romantic reunions. When they finally get together, it’s not entirely smooth, especially since Katie is regularly unable to extricate her perpetual preoccupation with politics from social gatherings or other reveries. It’s in these scenes, however, that Streisand and Redford really shine – their performances are sensational, fusing strong-willed verbal sparring (and pleas for love) with sentimental, daydreamy montages (accompanied by the theme music, whose lyrics are sung by Streisand herself), not unlike in “Two for the Road.”

The leads are so good (working with a strong script by Arthur Laurents) that the events surrounding their relationship rarely feel as significant. Yet it’s amusing to see the roles move through major historical periods, many taking place in the background as years pass without specific designations, punctuated only by recognizable political developments. Still, it’s actually a touch disappointing when activism interrupts their personal dramas – Katie and Hubbell are just too absorbing to take a backseat to national crises, even though their tale is too straightforward to singlehandedly occupy a feature-length movie. Thankfully, their time together proves more potent than anything else, making their irreconcilable differences (and the abrupt finale) just that much more heartbreaking.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10