Marriage, and its attendant joys and struggles, are at the heart of “Two for the Road,” director Stanley Donen’s 1967 film about the inevitable changes that happen in every relationship. The story follows Mark Wallace (Albert Finney) and his wife Joanna (Audrey Hepburn), and as the movie begins, 12 years into their marriage, it is apparent that this is a partnership where fissures are beginning to show.
Mark is an architect, and the couple is driving to Saint-Tropez, where Mark has recently completed a project for a valuable client. The road they are traveling is one they have journeyed upon several times before during different stages of their relationship. Those encounters are told through flashbacks, and it is during these looks backward that we begin to see the decisions and actions in which a marriage pivots.
Each flashback – from their meet-cute first encounter to the scene in which Jo announces she is pregnant – is imbued with a sense that this is a portrayal of marriage, that is, it shirks away from the oft-sentimental cinematic convention of marriage as a romantic endeavor in favor of the incremental accounting of the subtle shifts that occur in such partnerships. Skillfully portrayed by Finney and Hepburn, who give perhaps the finest performances of their careers, the portrayals of Mark and Jo are natural and human with no hint of irony or detachment. They evolve from a passionate couple free of responsibilities to one weighed with the very adult concerns of career, social status and child rearing. The passion in their marriage has waned. Both entertain thoughts of or commit adultery, and it is uncertain that this union will last.
Near the film’s end, Jo and her lover are having lunch, when he notices a couple eating in silence.
“What kind of people can eat an entire meal together and not talk?” he asks.
“Married people!” Jo replies, triggering a realization that travails and all, hers is a marriage worth salvaging.