The incredibly less fun version of “When Harry Met Sally…”
The other day I watched Funny Girl (1968) for the very first time. With the exception of Little Fockers (2010), it was the first Barbra Streisand movie I’d ever seen. l totally loved it! In fact, I loved it so much that it motivated me to check out even more of Streisand’s iconic movies. And what better choice for my second (or third, if we’re really counting the snoozefest that is Little Fockers) Streisand movie than The Way We Were (1973)? This classic has everything: Streisand, New York City, L.A., romance, drama, and Robert Redford utilizing ever aspect of his irresistible, indefinable Redford-charm. By the way, if you want to see another fantastic Robert Redford romance, I beg of you, please watch Barefoot in the Park (1967). Trust me, it’s so fucking good.
The Way We Were follows the tumultuous relationship between Katie Morosky and Hubbell Gardiner. Initially meeting in college and reconnecting years later, the two share a deep, romantic attraction despite their political and social differences. As the years go by and life pulls the couple in unimaginable directions, Katie and Hubbell begin to question their relationship.
So, besides the amazingness of Barbra Streisand (which we’ll get into), the main reason why I wanted to see The Way We Were was because of this clip from Sex and the City (1998 – 2004). The way the ladies describe the movie with such enthusiasm, such passion and such reverence, has ALWAYS motivated me to one day see it for myself. Now that I have, I have to say…I was a little let down. While the movie certainly has its moments of intense romance, it’s honestly much more of a political drama than anything. Which is definitely not the movie I signed up for. I was expecting a moving drama whose epic love story would keep me thoroughly engrossed in the movie. I was not expecting two hours of consistent political babble that would seriously reduce my interest in the movie. Look, if I wanted to watch two amazing actors discuss the president for an entire movie, I’d rewatch The Post (2017). I love Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, but oh God was that movie dull.
The political focus aside, my main gripe with The Way We Were is its storytelling. It starts in the present-day but then flashes back to the character’s past for a solid 20 minutes, during which nothing of real value is revealed. Like, the flashback shows how Katie and Hubbell met at college, but doesn’t dig much further than that. In my opinion, flashbacks should be used to flesh out character’s motivations or feelings in the present, and The Way We Were doesn’t really do that. The flashback doesn’t successfully establish their romantic relationship or why they’re so attracted to each other, and instead just cobbles together a relationship out of them sharing one late night conversation, and one dance. To make Katie and Hubbell’s present-day romance believable and worth watching, we need to see them truly fall in love and that just never happens. The flashback could have been much stronger.
The strongest part of The Way We Were is by far the amazing chemistry between Streisand and Redford. Streisand really is a phenomenal actress. She just exudes talent in each scene she’s in, hitting every beat, romantic or dramatic, with ease. It’s clear to see why this was yet another Oscar-nominated role for Streisand. Katie is a strong, no-nonsense working girl and I appreciate that like most of the characters Streisand plays, she doesn’t take anything laying down. Redford, her leading man, is as charming and cool as always. His talent is timeless. Like, you could pluck 1970s-era Redford out of the past and drop him into any modern rom-com and he’d fit in perfectly. The pair are as charismatically complimentary as you’d want from the leads in any romance, but the writing does their characters a disservice. Once again, the weak story doesn’t do much to convince us that they actually like each other. Their relationship is totally toxic and mismatched, and it’s never made apparent what the attraction is. The Way We Were is the perfect date night movie…if you were trying to hint to your date that you want to break up.
I’m a sucker for any moving love story set in New York City, so I feel cheated and disappointed that The Way We Were is nothing of the sort. As a political drama, it’s wonderfully acted, written and directed. As a romance, it’s swoon-worthy moments are extremely few and far between and honestly, a little cheesy and clichéd. The story itself is already slow-moving and absent of any intriguing conflict or drive, but it just gets even more uninteresting the more it delves into political division amongst Americans. Even when the movie shifts its setting to L.A. and I though to myself, “ooohh, cool, we’ll get to see some fabulous behind the scenes movie-making drama!” politics still dominate the script. Katie and Hubbell’s relationship becomes something of an afterthought, a background for which the political storyline is set. Hey, at least that final scene with Katie and Hubbell in front of the plaza is every bit as sensational as people say.
Well, turns out Sex and the City lied to me. It wasn’t the first time and it’s sure as hell not going to be the last. Not at all the movie I was expecting and unfortunately not a pleasant surprise, The Way We Were is sure to only be enjoyed by political junkies or hardcore Streisand fans. It’s worth watching for the astounding performances from its legendary cast, but if you’re in the mood to watch something romantic, go for an undeniable crowdpleaser like When Harry Met Sally… (1989). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here!
Have you seen The Way We Were? Are you a Barbra Streisand fan?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!