Two For The Road & The Roads of Marriage
“They don’t look very happy”
“Why should they? They just got married”
This is the hard-bitten opening to Stanley Donen’s 1967 film, Two For The Road. A pleasant surprise from Donen (most famously known for the musical of all musicals, Singin’ In The Rain), Two For The Road is a deep-coloured, intelligent portrayal of the complexities of a marriage. It follows a couple, Marcus and Joanna (played by Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn), whose marriage has unceremoniously landed on the rocks.
A few scenes after the opening line, we see Marcus and Joanna on a plane. They sit one seat apart, but she still remembers to keep his passport, knowing he has a tendency to lose it. This distance, bordered by this routine intimacy, makes us wonder: What happened to this supposedly picture perfect couple?
They say that before you decide to marry someone, you should travel with them. Marcus and Joanna’s story, however, begins with them being forced to travel together. The film chooses to tell us their story through a somewhat experimental way: in a non-linear fashion, through fast-paced cuts of scenes from different years, serving as contrasts from their early years to the leisurely breakdown of their marriage. One example of this is a scene where Marcus and Joanna are trying to hitchhike, and Marcus remarks, “If I have a car I swear I’ll never pass a hitchhiker as long as I live”. Cut to the next scene, and the same car that passed by them now holds an older Marcus and Joanna, sitting miserably side by side.
On the surface, Two For The Road is built like a run-of-the-mill American romance. Two attractive leads, stunning scenery, Donen’s signature polished outlook. Yet, it’s these cuts, alongside Frederic Raphael’s astute and comical script, that gives us a chance to properly acquaint ourselves with the protagonists. Through its 111 minute runtime, we see every side of the couple—from their swooningly quick courtship, to the amusing antics in their first few years of marriage, to the bitter sweetness of having a first child. The script dives into the psyche of both characters, assessing where and why the marriage may have gone wrong, yet never blaming either of them. It is this realism with which the film views itself that makes it so charming, in the end: Marcus and Joanna, although a couple in a film, could very well be the next doomed love story you encounter on the street. Hepburn and Finney play the couple at each stage remarkably well; from their doe-eyed beginnings, to their frustrations interlocked with carefully concealed hope, and most importantly, as equals.
Marriage, much like Marcus and Joanna’s travels, is a volatile journey on a bumpy road in a car that’s making a funny sound. Two For The Road, released at the end of the sixties, feels thoroughly modern, yet, the story is one that couples go through all around the world. And like Marcus and Joanna, we hope they’ll s