Friday, April 22, 2005

Movie review: "The Way We Were"

This is a movie about two immensely unappealing people. "Katie" (Barbra Streisand) comes across as incredibly annoying. And "Hubbell" (Robert Redford) is very tanned to the point of being orange, very blond and hairy, and kind of an asshole, and all of this is apparently supposed to explain why Katie can't get enough of him. The only possible explanation is that this film is, as I thought it might be, a sort of female version of "Annie Hall", a relic from an age (the 1970s) when a character's being a WASP was still reason enough to explain a Jewish character's romantic interest in him or her.

The opening sequence, though, feels very much like the beginning of "Rushmore"; between the two of them, Katie and Hubbell are shown participating in every activity on their college campus (she handles journalism and politics; he sticks with sports), much as Max Fisher is introduced through a barrage of images of his extracurricular activities at his prep school. The way the intros to both films jump around from showing one activity to the next promises an active movie later on, but while "Rushmore" follows through, "The Way We Were" kind of trails off. The movie also must have influenced "Pretty in Pink"--poor, unconventionally attractive girl with geeky-guy sidekick falls for preppy creep who inexplicably likes her back. But Katie, though, ends up with "David X. Cohen," whom we never actually see, but who, it is implied, is no Robert Redford.

But the movie that this really brought to mind, oddly enough, was "Arguing the World," a documentary about four politically-active Jewish men from New York City who all started out on the left and all came from families with very little money. Historically speaking, Katie could have been one of their sisters. But while the New York intellectuals of "Arguing the World" pursue political thought to its fullest, Katie a) is told it's embarassing to be political, and b) considers the presence of Robert Redford in her bed to be reason enough to abandon her political activities. Things probably work out better for the Irving Howes and Irving Kristols of the world than for the Katies; then again, Barbra Streisand herself, who came from a background not unlike Katie's, is doing just fine.


Petey said...

"...a sort of female version of "Annie Hall", a relic from an age (the 1970s) when a character's being a WASP was still reason enough to explain a Jewish character's romantic interest in him or her."

Keaton's character in AH is not without its charms. Her awareness and insecurity about her own blandness and shallowness transforms those qualities into something palatable and even fetching.

Redford's character in TWWW, on the other hand, wallows in those disagreeable qualities, much as with any part the he plays.

Anonymous said...

Keaton's character in AH may be embarrassed by her blandness, but only when she's with Woody Allen. Away from his neuroticizing gaze she does just fine. And as adorable as Keaton was meant to seem, she was never set up purely as a sex object, so Allen's interest in her had self-consciously anthropological overtones. Whereas in TWWW, Redford plays himself, then if not today a bona fide sex object, a fellow who by virtue of his WASP good looks has it made. In AH, Allen's despair is never expressed in terms of his appearance--he feels perfectly entitled to good-looking women--only in his inability to take pleasure in the bounties offered to him. In TWWW Katy's self-consciousness can't be separated from the way (wild-haired, trying too hard) she appears to the cooler WASPS. In the end, Redford doesn't end up with a watered-down version of Streisand but rather with the sort of idealized WASP she could never measure up to. And yes, the viewer is meant to assume that the nice Jewish fellow Streisand ends up with is hideous by comparison to Redford.

Anonymous said...

great review