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ALAN ALDA       ELLEN BURSTYN

 

Only two names are listed above because there are only two real roles in this outstanding 1978 romantic comedy about a couple with "six children between them," married to other people but in love with each other. It was adapted for film from a two-character Broadway play that I immediately mistook for a Neil Simon gem, but alas, the credit must go to Bernard Slade. The couple accidentally meet in 1951 at the Sea Shadows Inn on California's Monterey Peninsula, fall in love and agree to meet in secret at the resort the same weekend every year for the rest of their lives. The movie spans 26 years in those lives, from 1951 through 1977, and shows how they grow and change along with the rest of the country. One critic stated that this is Alan Alda's very best work other than M*A*S*H. I couldn't agree more.

GEORGE is a neurotic who doesn't get his watch fixed because he "got used to it being 3 hours and 25 minutes fast" as he's a CPA and "very quick with figures." He lives in New Jersey but flies out every year to do the taxes of a friend who was his very first client. DORIS is on her way to a Catholic retreat that she attends on her mother-in-law's birthday while her husband takes the kids to visit the mother. That's her gift to the mother-in-law who hates Doris because she "got pregnant and caused her son to quit medical school and get a job selling waterless cookware." They don't seem to have much in common: Doris is Irish Catholic, and George is a "wasp" ; George is a self-proclaimed "snob about education" while Doris dropped out of high school, yet there's instant chemistry between them:

"We're in big trouble, Doris. I really think I'm in love with you, and I don't even know if you've read 'Catcher in the Rye'...I don't even care."

There are a few other minor characters in the movie with no speaking parts except "Old Chalmers", the caretaker who grows old along with George and Doris. When a movie is driven by character rather than plot, and there are only two characters, the dialogue better be great, and this is phenomenal. George, wracked with guilt after he wakes up in bed that first morning with "the other woman" asks: "Why do you have to look so luminous? I mean it'd make things so much easier if you woke up with puffy eyes and blotchy skin like everyone else." Doris : "I guess God thought chubby thighs were enough."

Though less educated Doris is really the strong one who expresses her guilt privately and accuses the nervous George of "wearing a Scarlet A on his jockey shorts." George lies a lot..about his wife's name, the number of children he has, etc. "I was afraid you might try to look me up or something." His excuse that he uses several times in the movie? "Okay, so I didn't think it through."

There's a neat, very touching gimmick that Slade uses: At every meeting George and Doris tell each other two stories about their respective spouses: one revealing the good side and one the bad. Over the years they come to think of the spouses as mutual friends.

I never got the opportunity to see the play, but I would imagine each "year" was an "act" in the play. The movie is edited similarly. Between each "meeting" we are shown film stills of the era--they're all there to bring back both happy memories and tears....Elvis, JFK, the Beatles, Nixon's resignation, the moon landing, etc. In the background is a beautiful score featuring the music of Marvin Hamlisch and the voices of Johnny Mathis and Jane Olivor. The love theme entitled, "The Last Time I felt like This" turns sad and haunting against a backdrop of 1960's violence as they sing about "dreams that swindle you while you sleep" and "maybe growing up is just kissing certain dreams goodbye."

Some people were offended by the play/movie because it glorifies adultery. I think Slade was a wise man. He knew what it takes George and Doris 26 years to discover: people do make mistakes and marry the wrong person, and later find their true soulmate. Early on in the movie George says, "My life is a mess, but the figures always come out right." (As an accountant that feeling is more than familiar to me. ) Later in the film he confesses to Doris that "all I know is that in 26 years I've never been out of love with you."

You will laugh and you will cry. Many movies touch our hearts....this will touch your soul as well.

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