I first encountered Two for the Road early one summer morning when I was procrastinating finding a job and the parents were out of the house. It was magical moment when I turned the channel to AMC as the movie began, and I was instantly hooked by the stylized credits and the draw of Audrey Hepburn; I knew I would love this movie.
Last night at 2am I watched the movie again. It had been a a good 8ish months since I'd last seen it, and I was craving something tragically romantic in my insomniac state. I always find the best romances are the ones that hurt to watch (no, this does not count 27 Dresses, PS I Love You, A Walk to Remember, et al). Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but this is still a great film.
Two for the Road tracks the relationship between Joanna (Audrey Hepburn and her sunglasses) and Mark (Albert Finney and his rakish-est) through a series of flashbacks of road trips they've taken together. The present day trip that begins and ends the film shows the couple several years into their marriage and cynical. They begin reminiscing about how they got to this point in their relationship: we see the trips where they first met, traveled with Mark's ex-girlfriend from the States with husband and annoying child in stow, had fun and playful trip full of mishaps, and traveled child of their own. The vacations are shown in a seemingly stream of consciousness pattern, with only image matching and emotional connection/contrast to connect them (Hepburn's hair plays a key role in orienting the viewer to the time period, thank goodness).
The most impressive thing about the film is how well Hepburn and Finney create a different tone to each segment while maintaining solid chemistry. They have to play young lovers, excited newlyweds, and exhausted cynics. Hepburn shows the change in her character with heartbreaking commitment. Both the actress and the character are fully invested in the role and relationship. Hepburn never looked so natural and spunky; she shows a sincere girl next door quality that she never truly achieves in other films like My Fair Lady or Sabrina. Finney's character is charming throughout, grudgingly revealing sparks of pure emotion between the usual sarcasm and feigned seriousness. These two working together is magical. Few romances are lucky enough to have both leads be so charming and convincing, but Two for the Road has two very charismatic actors excellently playing their parts.
For all its cynicism, the film really breathes of optimistic romance. To get to the end, the audience endures heartrending drama broken up by bouts of physical comedy and flirtation that keeps Two for the Road from ever becoming painfully realistic. The middle of the film drags when it focuses for extended periods on some of the flashbacks, but the character's charm lasts throughout bringing us safely to the conclusion that leaves us somewhat happy--or at least comfortable with where we've gotten.