Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.
I think it might be impossible to dislike Audrey Hepburn. When I’ve got an Audrey Hepburn movie on the docket, I’m always at least going to be mildly interested in it. In Two for the Road, she’s paired up with Albert Finney, which makes for an interesting pairing. Two for the Road pairs these two as a married couple who appear to be on the verge of a divorce. What we’re going to get, then, is both a look at the state of their marriage as it stands as well as the story of how they met, courted, and why their marriage began to splinter.
The other thing that we’re going to get is a few solid and well-established tropes. It probably won’t be a surprise to you that Two for the Road features a couple that, while they start poor, has become fabulously wealthy. Much of the attraction of putting Audrey Hepburn in a film, after all, was having her serve as a fashion plate, and that she does with her typical style and aplomb. So, the marital problems we’re going to be witnessing are happening within the context of people who have enough money to ship their car to Europe. The second significant trope here is the profession of Albert Finney’s character Mark. If you had to start making guesses, it wouldn’t be too long before you guessed his profession as architect, the default occupation in the movies for a guy who is creative and has an artistic soul but is also sensible and capable of generating the sort of wealth that puts Audrey Hepburn in designer clothing.
The story is told by jumping around in time from the current state of their marriage to other points of time. We learn about how the two originally met, their early courtship, and some of their travels as a young married couple. Much of this focuses on a single trip where they inexplicably meet up with Mark’s old girlfriend Cathy (Eleanor Bron), now married to an efficiency expert named Howard (William Daniels, who is immediately recognizable by his voice). We discover that both Cathy and Howard are insufferable assholes and their child Ruth (Gabrielle Middleton) is spoiled, obnoxious, and terrible as well.
We also learn that neither Mark nor Joanna (Hepburn’s character) have been faithful in their marriage. It’s implied that Joanna doesn’t know about Mark’s infidelities, but that he is fully aware of her affair with a man named David (Georges Descrieres). Naturally, this factors in to the current state of their marriage.
All of this has the potential to be interesting, but for the most part, it fails completely for me. It does so for a number of reasons. The first is that, as I said, this is nothing but rich people problems. They spend their time, at least in the current part of their marriage, in extremely expensive hotels and guesting at villas where they attend lavish parties. While excessive wealth doesn’t make them immediately unlikable, it does affect how the audience will see them. Many, I admit, won’t care, but I do. The reason for that is simple—these people are mainly having marital problems because they are bored. They’re not struggling together anymore. They’re at least financially comfortable (and that really is an understatement). What this means in terms of the plot is that neither of them really has to make any sort of sacrifice for the other. They’re both free enough to be completely selfish in everything, and so they both are all the time.
The second problem, and it’s a much bigger problem than having a couple of extremely selfish main characters, is that I don’t buy the chemistry between Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney for a hot second. I don’t think it’s the actors at all here; I think it’s the characters. Even in the early stage of their romance, they simply don’t seem like compatible people. Mark is a complete bastard all the time. He’s rude and dismissive, almost abusive in the relationship, and likely to lose his temper completely over nothing. There’s a running joke that he can never find his passport and that Joanna always has it for him. Okay, that’s funny, but when he can’t find his passport, he becomes the most entitled ass on the planet. At one point, he demands that the plane they are on turn around because he can find his passport and that’s the most important thing. What kind of an asshole does that? A self-important, entitled one. And because that’s Mark’s character, I don’t buy the more free-spirited Joanna being attracted to him at all.
And that’s the third point: Joanna doesn’t really have much of a character. I get the temptation here, and evidently Audrey Hepburn was the only choice for the role of Joanna, but it seems like the filmmakers took a real shortcut in putting together the film by getting Hepburn for the role. Joanna has no real character traits other than being bored and claiming to love her husband. It’s as if they got Hepburn for the part and decided that she was enough, and that the audience would simply map Audrey Hepburn onto whatever character they gave us and in whatever clothes she was wearing.
Two for the Road isn’t a terrible movie. It’s well filmed and the scenery is often beautiful. There is a travelogue aspect to the film that I always find interesting in this sort of mid-1960s film. The problem is that the characters propped in front of that travelogue are either unpleasant, disagreeable, or complete non-entities.
I realize I’m in the minority here. Most people seem to like Two for the Road, but I found it flat and unlikeable.
Why to watch Two for the Road: Nothing with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney is going to ever be that bad.
Why not to watch: Rich people problems.