Cinema: The Way We Weren't

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If this ill-written, wretchedly performed and tediously directed film may be said to have a central flaw, it probably lies in its reckless violation of a bit of conventional theatrical wisdom: when you call a lot of attention to a gun on the wall in Act I, it had better go off—loudly—by the end of the evening.

The weapon everyone is pointing at here is politics, specifically left-wing popular-front politics in the 1940s. The script by Playwright Arthur Laurents (Time of the Cuckoo) posits an improbable, if not preposterous relationship between a WASP jock-frat man (Robert Redford), who is, on the side, an incredibly sensitive writer, and a Jewish Stalinist campus radical (Barbra Streisand), who is, on the side, a novice earth mother. A great deal of pushing and hauling gets them from college to marriage to Hollywood in time for the anti-Red witch hunts. The purpose, one imagines, was to have the apolitical Redford's screenwriting career unfairly victimized because of his wife's gaudy leftism.

It doesn't work out that way, however. A certain amount of hot air is expended on the subject of political inquisitions in movieland, but Redford shucks his integrity without reference to political morality, and Streisand manages to shuck him over what seems a rather minor bit of marital infidelity on his part.

It is the audience that really gets shucked. The film does not actually have anything on its mind except to bring together two hot properties in a period setting for which there is currently a lot of nostalgia. Streisand predictably does her adorable neurotic bit. Redford unpredictably brings nothing to his role but his physical presence. As for the period, it is represented by a rag of costuming, a bone of set decoration and a hank of hairstyling. No one seems to have the faintest idea of the way we really were, spiritually and intellectually, in a testing, fascinating time of transition. The ideas and issues, and above all the human passions that arose out of them, are missing from this slick, cold and gutless work.

·Richard Schickel