Friday, August 01, 2014

Barefoot in the Park (1967)

I am not normally a big fan of Neil Simon's plays, and those works of his that I enjoy most have usually taken me a couple viewings to really get in to. My response to them probably has something to do with the shrill tone of much of his humor, with characters and situations that can border on the unpleasant. I had a similarly lukewarm reaction to this romantic farce, centering around a mismatched newly-wed couple -- she a free-spirit, he a conservative lawyer -- adjusting to the bohemian lifestyle in a run-down little Greenwich Village flat populated by oddball characters. Adapted by Simon from his 1963 play, much of the humor is strikingly dated now, and probably seemed a little dated already by 1967.

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are effective enough in the leads, but lack the chemistry to make the most of their comic sparring. Fonda brings the requisite energy to her role, but Redford seems ill-at-ease with playing comedy. The real stand-outs in the cast are the delightful Mildred Natwick as Fonda's mother, and Charles Boyer as the eccentric neighbor who lives upstairs. The film is not helped by the slack pacing and unimaginative direction by Gene Saks, which fails to really capture the energy that the material probably had on the stage. There are too many situations that feel underdeveloped, especially the climax on the roof of the apartment building, which has the opportunity for some good "thrill" comedy but goes nowhere. Overall, it's a charming-enough film, but one that suffers from missed potential.

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