Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yes, Really With Wilde.Dash #4: The Way We Were

Believe it or not, for someone totally obsessed with movies, I do a lot of selective editing, snubbing, and ignoring. That is to say: there are a whole lot of well-known movies I've actually never bothered to watch. I've spent a lot of time hunting down obscurities and not quite as much time seeing the movies you've probably been watching since you were 10 years old (for example: I decided maybe I should watch Saving Private Ryan in Winter 2008). Because of this, in conversation I frequently have this interaction. Me: "I've never actually seen that movie" You: "What? I've seen a movie you haven't?" Me: "Yes" You: "How have you not seen that movie?" Me: "I never wanted to" You: "Really?" Me: "Yes, really." Thus: Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash a near weekly  feature in which I fill in my pop culture education, watch all the boring basics, and let you know whether or not I decided they were worth my time. Get it? Got it? Good.
In one particular episode of "Sex and the City", Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) stages her own The Way We Were re-enactment. She walks up to Big (Chris Noth) after his marriage to the quote-unquote wrong girl and says, brushing back his hair on a crowded New York street: "your girl is lovely, Hubbell."  Much ado is made of the 1973 film in that particular episode, but I always shared Big's response: "I don't get it."  Why should I care?  If it seems trite to begin this edition of Yes, Really with a play-by-play of a "Sex and the City" episode, please remember: I'm writing about The Way We Were.  Enough said.

Of course, The Way We Were is more than the sum of its most familiar parts.  On the one hand you have Barbra Streisand who is either revered or hated with no middle ground.  On the other, you have her seemingly unlikely love interest: Robert Redford, who is universally adored for many reasons (including that time when he went out in a hail of gunfire with the man whose face graces your bottle of salad dressing).  In the middle, you have the one piece of the equation that is perhaps most emblematic of the reason the film has been pushed into a shudder-worthy corner of chick flicky cheese: its theme song.

If you've never seen The Way We Were, the reason is perhaps because you know the theme song. "Memmmmorieeeeeees / like the corners of my miiiiind / misty water-colored memorieeeees / of the waaay we werrrre"  Just like that.  Everyone knows this song.  Everyone calls it "Memories" though that is not the title.   A lot of people confuse it with "People" (who need people, are the luckiest people in the worrrrrrld...there should be a mash-up).  People, Memories, Don't Rain on my Parade.  I've been cognizant of these songs since I could walk.  I can't recall a time I didn't know them.  Then again, I may have mentioned, I grew up in a house with a Mother who decided to use Bette Midler's "Friends" off of the Divine Miss M LP as a tool to encourage me to be a social animal.  I remember curling up in a ball and being very afraid. I'm not so sure it worked.
I hate the song "The Way We Were".  Not just a little.  Like a lot.  To the point that I actually muted it off and on over the film's opening la-di-da life at preppy college montage.  Once that was over, though, I found much of the film to be somewhere in between 'tolerable' and 'alright'.  Great? No.  Alright? Sure. Yes. I can live with that. 

From its title, one can infer that this is a film about a break-up.  The characters in this supposedly gushy Hollywood romance do not remain in love at the end.  It's not 'the way we are', and that, my friend, is a good thing.  You see, these two are pretty mismatched.  They're one of those couples who, if they were your friends, you'd look at and just have to wonder about.  In their early interactions on campus in the 1930's (which at no point really feel like the 1930s), Katie (Babs, obviously) is an outspoken Jewish girl with Marxist leanings.  She holds rallies and devotes her time to passing out pamphlets no one reads.  Hubbell (Redford) is the tall, blonde WASP without a care in the world.  One day Katie realizes Hubbell's more than a pretty face, he's got mad writing skills.  They begin a strange circling mating dance of awkwardness and intrigue. Upon meeting by chance post WWII, they decide to give this thing a shot.  There's a very creepy scene, actually, where Katie climbs naked into a bed with an intoxicated, largely out-of-it Hubbell and well, I'm sort of sure that shades her character in a negative way.'s not nice to take advantage of drunken Robert Redfords.  I was liking her spunk for awhile, and then I just had to sit back and really question her judgment.  What was this? Forward, yes, but as mentioned: sketchy as all hell.

From there, they enter into this "relationship" that for some reason has set millions of hearts a flutter. This is where I become Mr. Big. I don't get it. I don't get the relationship. I don't get why they stay together. I don't understand the attraction to these characters after awhile. I don't particularly get the characters. Here's how it goes: they go out. Katie doesn't like Hubbell's friends. Hubbell doesn't like how Katie can never be nice. She supports him. He's sort of lazy. She gets all offended by dumb jokes. Hubbell has to go around apologizing for Katie's inability to deal calmly with dumb jokes in social situations. Basically: they have very little in common but for some reason seem to like each other. There's nothing much romantic about it. It's also, to my surprise, not as sappy as the poster/dvd art with smiling faces and beaches would lead you to believe. That the film is about a break-up is its redeeming quality. If it had turned into a tale of redemption and love overcoming obstacles, it would have faltered and the pseudo-essay you're currently reading would take a very different, far more bitter turn. Alas, Katie and Hubbell do not last, she walks up and tells him "Your girl is lovely" and maybe the result is that you recognize in them everything that you ever messed up. It's not about them at all, maybe. Is that it? Is that the secret? Katie and Hubbell are projections? Katie stands for every smart girl who ever fell for a weaker guy?

Yes? Ok. I could get that. The thing is, the film never feels like it progresses. Time passes and the characters remain stubbornly in the places they began. This is why for 'break-up romances', I like the idea of The Way We Were better when its grafted onto Annie Hall. Those characters? I get them. Them, I get. Neurosis and all.

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