The Way We Were

The Way We WereSynopsis: Some memories last forever.

Screen legends Barbara Streisand and Robert Redford make movie magic as the captivating star-crossed lovers Katie Morosky and Hubbell Gardiner. Theirs is a classic love story sparked by the attraction of opposites, played out against the backdrop of American life during times of foreign war, domestic prosperity and McCarthy-era paranoia in Hollywood.

Winner of two 1973 Academy Awards (Best song “The Way We Were” and Best Score). The Way We Were is the timeless romance that cannot be forgotten.

The Way We Were 6.75

eyelights: the politics.
eyesores: the editing.

I never really felt like seeing ‘The Way We Were’. For some reason, despite her standing as one of the great pop icons of the last few decades, Barbara Streisand simply does not appeal to me or intrigue me whatsoever. I simply couldn’t care less.

Even though ‘The Way We Were’ is recognized as a classic, as one of the most memorable romantic films of the ’70s, I couldn’t be bothered. I’ve seen ‘Love Story’. It took a while, but I’ve seen it. And I probably like romance more than the next guy – case-in-point, the number of romantic comedies on this blog.

So I think it was the Streisand factor. Otherwise, I can’ t see why else I ignored it for so long. Of course, in all fairness, not even Robert Redford was a draw for me – and I think that he was one heck of an actor in these days, in his prime. Seriously, can anyone argue the quality and/or impact of ‘All the President’s Men’, ‘The Candidate‘, ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘The Sting’, or ‘Three Days of the Condor’?

Despite my indifference, I had no great aversion for it, so, when my partner expressed a decades-long desire to see this film and we stumbled upon it at our local library, I decided that I may as well give it a shot. I figured that the worst that could happen is that I would have been able to say that I’d seen it. At best, it could have opened my eyes to an indisputable classic.

The end result was somewhere down the middle.

What I’ve found in ‘The Way We Were’ is a pretty decent, but straightforward, romantic drama: The two meet on campus, are intrigued by each other, but are separated by WWII. After the war, they meet again, fall in love, marry, and have a kid, all the while suffering the pains of having conflicting political beliefs and rather different professional ambitions.

There is no heat to speak of between the two leads (one can barely tell what the appeal is between them), no clever dialogue, no surprise twists (oh, there are twists, but they are all too predictable), no especially gorgeous vistas – nothing that I can think of which distinguishes this particular motion picture from any other romantic drama before or since.

The only thing that truly made this film stand out was its political backdrop – which is hardly surprising, when you consider the two leads’ strong political stances over the years. Streisand’s character, Katie, is a political activist, a woman with so much fire in her gut that she can nary back down when she sees something that she feels needs addressing – even in polite company. Meanwhile, Redford’s character, Hubbell, is an apolitical gentleman more concerned with writing and casual living than changing the world.

This is what apparently attracts them to one another: she falls in love with his ability to write so skillfully, and he is moved by her words and passion. This doesn’t ever last, of course, because there’s no way that she can lay down her arms without selling out and he can’t get involved without ruffling the feathers of his cynical friends. Nor do we ever really understand why they were drawn together. I mean, we are told this and understand it intellectually, but we never really see them fall in love per se; we just have to take it for granted.

Anyway, although it is a sign of the times in which the movie was made, it was nice to see a strong female role such as this one in a romantic drama – instead of the swooning two-dimensional characters that Hollywood typically shells out. I loved that she would speak out at student gatherings, was politically-motivated and wanted to change the world. And it didn’t just come out of naïve idealism, either – it came out of her deepest convictions.

Streisand did her best to give Katie life, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. While she has been nominated for a few awards for her performance, in my estimation they weren’t entirely warranted. Granted, she gave Katie spunk, but she also tended to be slightly over the top, emoting at all times and overdoing most of her key moments. The problem is that at no point did I forget that she was acting – all I saw was a performance, not a human being.

Meanwhile, Redford was good, but bland. He originally turned down the role because he found the character lacking definition, but was eventually convinced by director Sydney Pollack. Redford’s instinct was correct: Hubbell is as flavourless as white bread, and there’s nothing that he could have done to salvage the part. Perhaps if the two actors had had some rapport, if we had felt an undeniable chemistry between them on-screen, then this passion would have helped Hubbell transcend his blandness. Alas, this is not so.

But, if anything is disappointing about ‘The Way We Were’, it’s the impression one gets that some material is missing, largely due to huge gaps between some of the sequences. The problem is that these gaping holes destroy our sense of time – we never really know how much time has passed and where the scenes are situated, time-wise. Seriously, one moment Katie is pregnant, the next moment she’s no longer pregnant – and yet we can never tell the difference between before and after nor how long it’s been in between. There are some serious editing issues here.

I discovered after the fact that part of the reason is that many scenes were cut out of the final picture because the first preview screening was a major flop. On the DVD, there’s a documentary that shows the sequences that were eventually cut. They were fantastic: not only do they flesh out Katie and Hubbell a lot more, but they provided the necessary back story to make the whole work better. However, they were the deeper, heavier parts of the picture and somehow they were considered extraneous. So they were cut out, and then the film became a hit.

Go figure.

As it stands, ‘The Way We Were’ is a much weaker film than it could have been. Granted, it wouldn’t have been jaw-droppingly awesome, but at least it would have had substance. Alas, the masses wanted fluff instead, and they got it. Le sigh. I guess it struck a chord at the time and it has remained a favourite of many, a sentimental journey that I can’t really relate to now, decades after the fact. Personally, I hope that someday someone will release a restored director’s cut of the film, because, when I think of ‘The Way We Were’, all I can do is imagine the way that it could have been.

Date of viewing: January 5, 2013

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