By Elisabeth Donnelly
Where to begin, when it comes to the exquisite romantic melancholy in the classic The Way We Were? If you haven't seen it yet, or if you've seen it a million times, check it out for free!
Dir. Sydney Pollack (1973)
Confession time: there are some films that you just don't get to see in a lifetime of moviegoing. And there are some films, thanks to their cultural ubiquity, that you haven't seen for stupider reasons, because it feels like you know it. The Way We Were is certainly one of those films. It spawned one of Barbra Streisand's signature songs, The Way We Were (Memories), and it's had a tenacious hold in pop culture.
The best example comes from the extended Sex and the City (the TV series) Carrie and Mr. Big plot that culminated in Mr. Big marrying a girl who was "beige," and having a tragic reunion outside The Plaza with Carrie, hair curly and wild, graciously accepting her independence with a "Your girl is lovely, Hubbell."
It's a pleasant surprise, however, to realize that The Way We Were is a wonderful film. After all, to quote a Gilmore Girls episode (another TV series that cited it constantly), "What are you waiting for? Heartache, laughter, communism. All in one neat package."
Streisand plays one of the best-written female characters in a romance, the political, willful Katie Morosky, a Marxist Jew who sets off on an improbable romance with Hubbell Gardner (Robert Redford in hot WASP splendor), a golden boy with a secret writing talent. Despite the fact that Katie is "plain" in comparison to Hubbell, they make a spiritual, romantic, and intellectual connection, heading off into the world together. But when Hubbell goes Hollywood, and Katie embraces her politics in a time of McCarthyism, the strain may be too much.
Although screenwriter Arthur Laurents decried the changes that Pollack made to his orginial script, the film maintains an air of swooning, melancholy romance. (Even if Pollack cut the McCarthy-driven conflict at the heart of their divorce.) Katie is one of the treasures of film: a smart girl who didn't plan on falling for and getting the golden boy, who fights with her principles and her feelings over love and politics. It's a complex, fascinating character. There should be more movies with female characters as exciting as Katie Morosky*.
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