Same - 1
Although its premise and denouement seem cynical to me, I found Same Time, Next Year (1978) to be an engaging and entertaining film, and an especially apt showcase for the talents of Ellen Burstyn and Allen Alda. The romantic comedy is so apropos for Burstyn, in fact, that she starred on Broadway with Charles Grodin in the stage version in 1975 and won the Tony and Drama Desk awards for her performance.

The principal characters in this story are Doris and George, two married people who meet by chance in 1951 at an inn in California, wind up in bed together, and decide to repeat the encounter on the same weekend every year — and they do so for 26 years. Doris, who lives in the San Francisco area, is at the inn because she is supposed to attend a religious retreat nearby; George, who is from New Jersey, is an accountant in town to see a client. In the play by Bernard Slade, Doris and George are the only two characters; in the film, there are other actors, but their roles are only incidental. It’s not an easy thing for two actors to carry a film by themselves, but Burstyn and Alda succeed utterly.

Same - 2
At each meeting, they express and act on their passion for each other, but they also discuss their lives at home, what’s best and worst about their spouses, what’s going on with their children, of whom there are a total of six. Unlike the folks who usually turn up in this kind movie situation, neither Doris nor George claims to be in a failed marriage; in fact, both seem to genuinely like their partners. As the meetings go on — separated in this film by black-and-white images of the historical and cultural events that shaped life in those decades — Doris and George both evolve in their appearance, their mode of dress, and their outlook, and these changes don’t always blend harmoniously. But still they go on meeting, until tragic changes in George’s life force a decision — an “up or down vote,” to use the parlance of the Beltway — by both of them. As I suggested at the beginning of this post, I am repelled by the way this story line glibly accepts the deceit that was necessary for this relationship to continue. Still, I can’t help but applaud the skill with which both actors kept the story compelling and made the transitions in these characters believable.

Same - 3

ELLEN BURSTYN and MARTIN LANDAU

After we watched Lovely, Still, a 2008 film starring Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau, I poked around on the Web and found the widest possible range of opinons — from a contemptible piece of trash to a work of genius. Put me down as confused, which I guess is somewhere between the extremes. This movie, directed and written, in part, by Nicholas Facker, concerns elderly Robert Malone (Landau), who appears as a solitary man who lives alone and works at a nearby supermarket — near enough that he has been walking to work since he crashed his car into his garage door.

MARTIN LANDAU

During his lunch breaks at the market, Robert passes the time making pencil drawings that reveal a high level of skill that seems out of place in a man whose life is so drab and pointless. While he is drawing one day, he is approached by Mary (we are not told her last name), played by Burstyn. She introduces her self and tells him that she admires his drawing. When Robert returns home that evening, he finds the front door of his house ajar. Unaware that he didn’t close the door when he left for work, he cautiously enters the house to search for an intruder, and he finds one — Mary, who lives across the street with her daughter, Alex, played by Elizabeth Banks. As Mary tries to explain that she had seen the open door and wanted to make sure he was all right, the startled Robert screams at her to get out of his house.

ELIZABETH BANKS

When Robert calms down, however, he apologizes and the interchanges that follow end up with Robert accepting Mary’s invitation to take her to dinner the following night. Although Alex is wary of this, for reasons she does not state, Mary pursues the relationship which evolves into a romance, the first romance, Robert  tells her, he has ever had. Meanwhile, Robert seeks and receives advice on courtship from his boss, Mike (Adam Scott), who seems to be more than reasonably solicitous of this confused old man, even going shopping with Robert to pick out Christmas presents for Mary. This movie is swathed in Christmas lights and sentimental music, and early on we became uneasy about the fairy tale. Eventually, Mary’s behavior and demeanor signal that something is seriously amiss — that there’s something she isn’t telling us. Sure enough, in the last few scenes, we learn that nothing in the film, including the relationships among the major characters, is what it seemed to be, and that the truth is  as harshly real as the setup for it was cozily unreal. To complicate matters, we didn’t fully understand what had really happened and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the conclusion. As I poked around on the Web, I found that we were not alone. We speculated about what the writers might have been trying to convey, but we could find reasons to dismiss every theory we concocted.

ADAM SCOTT

That’s too bad, because in our view this film has a lot to recommend it: the musical choices, the photography, and particularly the exemplary performances by all four major players. The story, in spite of its obscure ending, also effectively calls attention to the loneliness of people whom we encounter in everyday life and to the possible consequences of old age.

So we liked it as far as we could, but we’re confused. Perhaps someone else will watch Lovely, Still and open our eyes.