First, we'll have an orgy. Then we'll go see Tony Bennett.
Bob and Carol (Robert Culp and Natalie Wood), a thirty-something couple from Pasadena go to one of those touchy-feely group retreats that are impossible to parody and painfully hilarious to watch. It's 1969. The hippie thing has invaded squaresville, you dig? These married cats return home filled with free love and enlightenment and the desire to be, like, Be here Now and be totally honest. Naturally, they need to spread the good news to their best friends, Ted and Alice (Eliot Gould and Dyan Cannon). Carol thinks every little thing everyone shares is "beautiful," including her husband's honesty about having had an affair, back when affairs were secret and dirty and everyone kicked the extracurricular Mad Men style. Will Ted and Alice follow their friends' lead? And where will it lead them all?
So goes the premise of Paul Mazursky's most famous film, a dated but still fun flashback that grossed a fortune in the final year of the 1960s. I imagine, too, it was on a lot of lips of people who hadn't seen it or wouldn't admit to seeing it, if only because of the poster showing its four bewildered stars in bed together. Let it all hang out, baby. I understand a lot of small town theaters showed instead one that just had the title repeated, over and over in a cool font. Uptight, or what?
Sure, it's a period piece. I doubt just saying vagina would get that much of a shocked response anymore, while the film's then-titillating elements (Look mummy! Nude hot tubbers!) are old news now. What makes the movie work, despite its decidedly dated trappings, are the performances. The actors interact in a way that seems natural, and the humour comes from understanding who these people are and, well, relating to them. The realistic approach to comedy comes with a lot of slow pacing. You either have the patience for this kind of film or you should go watch more Youtube. Or you could look at the outfits. A good number of the cast shops at the same boutiques as Austin Powers, baby.
The ending is rightly famous, and I don't want to give anything away. It holds up. It's the ending after the ending, with a line-up of American types (including some bloke in an Indian chief get-up) tripping through Las Vegas to the tune of "What the World Needs Now is Love," that will have you cringing. At that point, the satire turns against the film.
For some reason, someone thought this should be a tv show. It lasted twelve episodes in 1973. In place of their son, Bob and Carol have a ten-year-old daughter, played by Jodie Foster. TeleBob was played by Robert Urich, soon to become American tv's Dan Tanna in Vegas. Carol was Ann Archer, more famous as Michael Douglas's wife in the grossly overrated 1980s thriller Fatal Attraction. David Spielberg and Anita Gilette played Ted and Alice.
The pilot episode, which is the only one I've ever seen (hurray for the internet), gives, I imagine, the tone of the series. It reprises the plot of the movie, except that instead of broadening their sexual relationships after returning from the retreat, Bob and Carol want to—gasp—go skinny dipping with Ted and Alice. What wild times those 1970s were. Today, they'd probably download a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.