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20th Century Fox presents
Joanna: They don't look very happy.
DVD ReviewBefore Two for the Road, Audrey Hepburn specialized in playing insecure debutantes, waifs, and shy, impressionable women. But Stanley Donen's episodic portrait of a disintegrating marriage unveils a new Audrey—confident, mod, even a little sassy. For the first time, Hepburn laces her line readings with a cynical edge, and a hint of disillusionment clouds her demeanor. The effect is irresistible, altering our perception of the actress, and for once letting the common man feel like maybe, just maybe, he could turn her head. No one would ever call Hepburn earthy, but in Two for the Road she at last leaps off her celestial pedestal and becomes flesh and blood. Gone is the manufactured movie star impeccably draped in Givenchy couture, and coiffed and coached by Hollywood's elite. This is the real Audrey, the natural Audrey, full of passion, fire, and reckless abandon. And the change seems not only to liberate her, but also inspire her to file one of her finest and most resonant portrayals.
In its day, Two for the Road was a bold tale told with flair and innovation. Donen and screenwriter Frederic Raphael (Eyes Wide Shut) cleverly play with time—flashing back, jumping slightly forward, reverting to the past, leaping to the present—as Mark and Joanna Wallace (Albert Finney and Hepburn) reflect on their 12-year marriage while traveling through the French countryside. Rapid edits brings us in and out of memory fragments, and we see the characters in the same locales during different periods of their lives—forging a relationship, in the fresh bloom of newfound love, battling boredom, adjusting to changing needs, and juggling the demands of a burgeoning career and family. Though visually and thematically exciting, the device, at times, also thwarts the film by disrupting its narrative continuity and momentum. At first, like an aimless scenic drive, Two for the Road pleasantly meanders, but as the trip progresses, the audience begins to feel impatient; we want to get to our destination, and feel frustrated by too many long and pointless detours.
Hepburn and Finney, however, effortlessly smooth over the rough patches, and their comfortable chemistry makes it easy to believe in their marriage. (The pair reportedly had an affair during filming, which may account for the heightened intimacy they convey.) Hepburn looks so relaxed and radiant, it's difficult to concentrate on anyone or anything else while she's on screen, but Finney exudes a robust enthusiasm and seething intensity that forces a shared focus. The actor hasn't often played romantic leads during his long and fruitful career, but Mark is far from the typical Hollywood stud, and the character's self-absorption and insensitivity allow Finney to craft a provocative portrayal. And if Hepburn's beauty isn't enough, a young and equally stunning Jacqueline Bisset pops up early on to flirt with Finney and grab our attention.
Unfortunately, the greatest strength of Two for the Road also becomes its prime weakness. The rich subtleties of character that ever-so-gradually add layers to the Wallace marriage and allow us to intimately relate to Mark and Joanna are rarely supported by strong plot points. I'm not saying the movie needs melodrama—the light tone coupled with moments of angst and bitterness lend Two for the Road an airy quality that complements its summery Provence setting—but a 111-minute film requires a bit more sustenance to satisfy its viewers, and keep them committed to and involved with the characters. At the time of its premiere, Two for the Road may have seemed like a potent slice of connubial life, but Hollywood has since produced far more brutal marital portraits (Finney's own Shoot the Moon quickly comes to mind), thus diluting the impact and dulling the edge of Donen's film.
And yet somehow the movie still strikes a chord. Raphael's Oscar-nominated script often nails the essence of marriage and commitment with a few choice words, and the verbal sparring between Mark and Joanna crackles with both incisive wit and piercing barbs. The situations, however, seesaw between the sublime and ridiculous, at times undermining the emotional honesty that so eloquently pervades the piece. Maybe that's the nature of comedy-drama—and marriage—but it's also the genre's Achilles heel. Saddling Mark and Joanna with a couple of idiosyncratic and thoroughly insufferable American traveling companions (wonderfully played by Eleanor Bron and William Daniels) and their obnoxious spoiled daughter (Gabrielle Middleton) injects some comic zing into the film, but doesn't really embellish the Wallace relationship. Tightening such episodes would preserve the film's genial flow while sharpening its bite.
All this nit-picking may give the impression I don't care for Two for the Road, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although time has upset the film's delicate balance, there's still a lot to love about it. The terrific performances, stylish direction, adult subject matter, lush French locations, and marvelous Henry Mancini score create a seductive, languorous mood that perfectly suits the script, and allows us to ease beneath the surface of Mark and Joanna's marriage, and perhaps, later on, our own. Traveling with this couple requires patience, tolerance, and endurance—but how many worthwhile road trips don't?
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Fox presents Two for the Road in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the anamorphic transfer is, in a word, breathtaking. Trust me, only an Air France 747 could get you closer to the Riviera or Loire Valley. The newly restored image is so clear, you can almost feel the breeze off the Mediterranean and the stifling sun of Provence on your back. Occasionally, a scene or two flaunts a bit of frustrating softness, but on the whole, the picture remains as crisp and satisfying as a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Colors are deep and beautifully saturated, especially the red sweater Hepburn dons throughout many early scenes. Shadow detail is excellent, and the reflection of passing scenery on the car windows possesses almost as much detail as the close-ups inside the vehicle. Fleshtones are stable and natural, with Hepburn's creamy complexion suggesting youth, and a rich olive tan denoting the sophistication and economic security of middle age. Either way, the actress looks utterly real, and always magnificent. A few specks and imperfections crop up from time to time, but Fox has done a superb job remastering this striking film.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Both stereo and mono tracks are included, and they render clean, well-modulated sound. Mancini's score enjoys a lovely resonance, and subtle atmospheric effects seamlessly blend into the action. Dialogue is always easily understandable, and no pops or crackles distract.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Stanley Donen
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
A restoration comparison uses both text and visuals to explain the painstaking process of rejuvenating the film, and makes us further appreciate the magnificent transfer, while a still gallery presents a paltry six color images—none, astonishingly, of Hepburn!—from various stages of production. The film's original theatrical trailer completes the extras package.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsAudrey Hepburn fans, rejoice! Two for the Road comes to DVD with a spectacular transfer and absorbing commentary by director Stanley Donen. Though at times uneven, this perceptive comedy-drama showcases the talent of its leading lady, while deconstructing the bumps, potholes, and euphoric bliss of love and marriage. Recommended.
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