Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.
So here we go again. I clearly left the Barbra Streisand to the end of this set of films with two left to the last hundred. With The Way We Were, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but there’s a great deal more here than I figured there would be. In fact, I thought this was little more than a romance that dies over the course of the movie. What I didn’t know was that this is kind of a period piece, taking place at the end of World War II through the McCarthy era.
World War II is in full swing when we start, and Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) is working at a radio station and constantly clashing with the government censor. That night, out at a club, she encounters the WASP-ishly named Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford), who she knew at college, and it’s flashback time. We jump back to those college days at an unnamed college that is almost certainly somewhere on the East Coast and also very likely Ivy League.
The Way We Were is going to be one of those romances where opposites attract; Katie and Hubbell are about as opposite as we’re going to get. Hubbell is very much the WASP his name implies that he is. He rows on the college team and seems to make a joke out of everything. Katie is painfully serious about everything and also happens to be a Marxist Jew, about as far away from the straight-laced Republicans that Hubbell and his friends represent.
Since our star-crossed pair is still cross with each other in these college days, the romance won’t start until the War. There are hints, though. Katie is impressed with his writing, and one night he tells her privately that he has sold a story. There seems to be a sort of mutual respect between them, although he finds her too serious and she finds him too frivolous. But when they meet up in New York during the war, Katie at the radio station and Hubbell in a naval uniform, the romance begins to blossom.
Long story short, Hubbell and Katie move out to California so he can work as a screenwriter, initially adapting his first novel for the screen. His friend J.J. (Bradford Dillman) marries Hubbell’s ex, Carol Ann (Lois Chiles) and heads out to the coast with him. And then the McCarthy era begins and HUAC gets nasty and Katie’s pro-Soviet, communist past comes out, which jeopardizes Hubbell’s career. The fact that she is now pregnant only complicates things, but in terms of how this movie works, it doesn’t really complicate things that much.
So now that I have the basic plot out of the way, I have a couple of things to say about The Way We Were. The main thing is that there is a huge problem with the film: it doesn’t work. This is the most unbelievable romance I’ve seen in a very long time. I know that opposites can attract, but there is no way I buy a romance between Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. Oh, it doesn’t surprise me that she would fall for his boyishe, goyishe good looks at least on some level, but a long-term, “we’ve gotten married” relationship is a non-starter.
What surprises me most about The Way We Were is not that it takes place during an earlier era or that there is a great deal of political content in the film. What surprises me the most is that my loyalties are flipped. I typically like Robert Redford, particularly in this era before he had his face tanned into fine, Corinthian leather. I’m also happy to admit the clear talents of Barbra Streisand, but I’m also quick to admit that she doesn’t do a lot for me in general. In this film, though, my sympathies are entirely with her. This has nothing to do with her politics; it has everything to do with the fact that Hubbell Gardiner is a privileged shit.
Is that harsh? Not really. This is a guy who, over and over and in just about every possible case in the film, Hubbell takes the easiest possible way out. This is a guy who has never had to make a difficult decision in his life, because every time a difficult decision comes up, he just walks the hell away from it. Rather than challenge himself ever, he just walks away. Rather than deal with the problems in his relationship, he just walks away. Rather than stand up for his partner, the person he’s supposed to love and who he is having a child with, he just walks away. This guy is an asshole, and it’s just another reason that causes me to think there’s no way that someone as intelligent and forthright as Katie Morosky would end up in a relationship with this asshole.
This isn’t a bad film, but it’s also one that simply doesn’t work. The politics are mildly interesting, even if we don’t really get into the details of HUAC and the Hollywood Blacklist. The romance, that should be central here, is a straight failure.
Why to watch The Way We Were: It’s a lot deeper than you probably think.
Why not to watch: The romance is unbelievable, and not in a good way.