Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Hate Valentine’s Day? We’ve lined up a week of holiday counter-programming, the best break-up movies and anti-love stories available.
The Way We Were (1973)
For The Way We Were, the third of his seven films with Robert Redford, director Sydney Pollack paired his star with a first-billed Barbra Streisand and treated eager audiences to the sight and sound of the pair fighting through the mid-20th century. Hubbell (Redford) and Katie (Streisand) meet in the late ’30s as undergraduates. She’s a serious-minded activist who always works her hardest; he’s a Redfordian golden boy and aspiring writer to whom things come easily. Their chance initial encounters offer glimpses of a life without their own kind—his sorority girlfriend, her nerdy sidekick—and these early moments already have a bittersweet tinge. Pollack shoots their first dance together without dialogue, all of the intimacy in the actors’ faces, before Redford retreats back into the crowd and the moment slips away.
It’s a recurring cinematic theme as they intersect again, later in life: The couple’s happiest moments tend to pass in montage or pantomime, with the Marvin Hamlisch score in place of conversation. When they talk—and talk they do—they clash over her idealism and his laid-back ease. For a while, their courtship and breakup defy linear time; they seem to be taking place simultaneously across the years. Defying (some of) the trappings of decades-spanning romantic melodrama, The Way We Were doesn’t shy away from the messiness of what amounts to a very protracted breakup. Shortly after their first big separation, Katie calls Hubbell and begs him to come comfort her; when he obliges and she rehashes their relationship, it’s appropriately awkward, even kind of pathetic. Their chemistry isn’t built on romantic heat so much as a mutual inability to stay mad at each other.
When focusing on Hubbell’s screenwriting career and the House Un-American Activities Committee, the movie bogs itself down in repetition; Redford and Streisand are the whole show, so scenes with various supporting characters drag. But Pollack’s film still manages to function as a glossy rebuke to the Hollywood standard of the unlikely romance: He’s a WASP! She’s Jewish! And... hey, actually, their differences result in a fundamental gulf that they may not be able to bridge! For a screen romance with huge movie stars, that sentiment feels pretty real.
Availability: The Way We Were is available on DVD, which can be obtained through Netflix, or for rental or purchase through the major digital services.