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The Way We Were


#95 - The Way We Were
Sydney Pollack, 1973



In the lead-up and aftermath of World War II, an unlikely romance forms between a rich W.A.S.P. (Robert Redford) and a poor Jew (Barbra Streisand).

Well, you can already tell from the title alone that this is the kind of romance that isn't going to end well. In addition to that, it's probably not a good thing for a romantic drama when the romance between the two leads isn't the most compelling aspect of the film. An interesting thing about the film is that it's supposed to take place in the 1940s but it takes a good few minutes to actually realise this since the film still feels so unmistakably 70s (you can probably credit this to the outfits more than anything). Considering that this came out around the same time as The Godfather, which managed to conjure an unmistakeable 1940s vibe, one has to wonder if this was a deliberate choice on the makers' part, but that doesn't stop it being distracting. Trying to invoke an idea of timelessness makes sense given how the film's plot ultimately ends up being about Barbra Streisand's character, who is initially established as a staunch Marxist, ending up battling against McCarthyism as it starts to interfere with the life that she and Robert Redford have built up in Hollywood (what with him becoming a screenwriter). Of course, this is ultimately supposed to complicate the romantic A-plot instead of be interesting in its own right and ultimately suffers a bit for being underdeveloped.

As for the A-plot itself, well, I guess there's some values dissonance at work. How else to explain the fact that the first actual love scene between the leads involves a drunk-to-the-point-of-vomiting Redford all but passed out in Streisand's bed and a not-nearly-that-drunk Streisand picking those circumstances to silently cuddle up next to him and then...it just seems like an unfortunate double standard and sticks out against the otherwise generic tale of tragic romance. It's also interesting how the film never really condemns Streisand's socialist politics, even though the Cold War was still on in 1973. There's some interesting points that save it from being a dull film, but they're scattered rather haphazardly across the film and the end result is merely okay (aforementioned double standard notwithstanding)