' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Twice In A Lifetime

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday's Old Fashioned: Twice In A Lifetime

“I don’t deserve what he done to me.” This is what Kate (Ellen Burstyn) tells her daughters (Amy Madigan & Ally Sheedy) in regards to her husband and their father, Harry (Gene Hackman), who has walked out on them to be with Audrey (Ann-Margaret). And she’s right. She’s absolutely right. She doesn’t deserve it. And yet……Harry doesn’t deserve to remain in a marriage that has become so obviously dormant. And Kate doesn’t deserve that either! This is a sight typically unseen in American cinema where when it comes to the subject of divorce we demand a victor – his fault or her vault. Pick a side! But there is no side. There is no right and wrong. That’s a line so often preached, yet so rarely practiced at the movies.


The film opens on the 50th birthday of Harry, a steelworker in Washington state, and as he sits at the dining room table surrounded by his family Hackman deftly conveys a man who is by no means unhappy but seemingly disconnected – from family, from his wife beside him, from life itself. He goes down to the bar to celebrate but Kate, of her own volition - she’d rather watch TV with the grandkids - stays home. He meets Audrey, the new bartender, and gentle sparks are thrown. They begin seeing each other on the sly. It does not stay sly for long. Yet, when Harry is called on the carpet by his wife there is no denying, backtracking or attempted cover-ups. He tells the truth, and not merely the truth pertaining to the affair but the truth pertaining to their marriage. To quote Scrap Dupris: “There are some things people just don’t want to hear.”

The oldest daughter, Sunny (Madigan, fiery in an Oscar nominated turn), doesn’t want to hear it. She pushes her mother to confront her father and eventually this happens in a brutally plain and unsettling sequence at the town bar, right there in front of Audrey. Kate doesn’t want to hear it, even if Burstyn, in an understated performance, masterfully reveals she is not the suffering wife archetype but a wife complicit in the creation of her suffering. Harry doesn’t want to hear it, either. He’s a cheater, yes, totally true, but he’s not a liar. Well, actually, he kind of is a liar, in that sense that he and his wife and his kids have been lying about the state of the marriage, likely because it’s just easier to ignore the problem than to confront it.

See? These issues, as we know, are complicated but in Bud Yorkin’s film born out of a Collin Welland (who retroactively earns Cinema Romantico’s 1985 I’ll-Buy-You-A-Stella-Artois Award for his non-Oscar nominated work) screenplay they are paid nuanced and honest respect, as opposed to holding steadfast to the Hollywood myth that a montage or a marriage counselor or an “A Ha! Moment” cures all ails. While the plotting of “Twice in a Lifetime” is mostly unspectacular, it is still mesmerizing in the way it holds sway by routinely mixing happy and sad within the same scene. Hell, within the whole movie. To see a character – that’s Harry – triumph, so to speak, by being unfaithful to his faithful wife is startling. It’s also refreshing, not because this sort of behavior should be condoned – though this sort of behavior should be treated genuinely on a case-by-case basis – but because of its awesome candor. Life is a hot & bothered mess where sometimes decisions that appear wrong-headed are, in fact, upon the benefit of time passing, the most level-headed of all. What else did Scrap Dupris say? “Everything in boxing is backwards.”


The film is afforded a second tier of strength by paying attention to its supporting players. Audrey is at once not a clichéd monster and also fully in tune to the havoc she is creating – making it clear that the havoc could very well be for the good of all involved, so long as Harry commits to what he believes. Sunny’s husband is down on his luck and worries that Harry’s life choices will only worsen his plight in the eyes of his wife. Harry and Kate’s youngest daughter, Helen (Sheedy), chooses to marry her boyfriend despite their youth. Harry disapproves, worried she is making the same mistake he and his own wife did, but Kate patiently explains she has learned from their mistakes and will not make the same ones. The eventual wedding set piece could have led to forced drama and a final confrontation but instead provides the film its own unique twist on a happy ending – a fractured family setting aside its differences for the good of the child. That, pardon my French, is some bold shit.

The final shot shows Harry walking into the sunset (while a theme song that sounds suspiciously like “WKRP In Tacoma” plays). It is a shot of countless films and often features a hero post-heroics. And strange as it may sound this shot does evoke something heroic - real people coming to terms with the new trajectories of their lives and the notion that while scary it may very well be all for the better. That's not as easy as it sounds. Neither is making a movie this good.

2 comments:

Sam Fragoso said...

I always enjoy these Friday, older movie reviews.

Always finding something new and intersting. As for heroics in the movies, I'm glad this films deserves it.

Nick Prigge said...

Thank you, Sam. I really do enjoy writing these posts. So happy to know others are enjoying them too.