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Love begins across a room
With eyes that lock and smiles that bloom
But will not leave the stricken pair
When time to end the brief affair,
For love endures a year apart,
And patient is the waiting heart.
They love their spouses too in spite
Of seeking yearly to unite.
For love endures for decades too,
The changes they must suffer through,
And even when it nears its end,
It will not leave a lifelong friend.

Released at the height of Alan Alda’s M*A*S*H fame, Same Time, Next Year brought to life both Bernard Slade’s 1975 play and a romance for the ages. As she’s a big fan of Alan Alda’s charm and humor, it’s no surprise that my VC loves this film so much and insisted on my reviewing it.

George (Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) happen to meet at a seaside hotel in 1951 while on solo retreats and immediately fall for each other, with the romantic mood set perfectly by the Oscar-nominated song “The Last Time I Felt Like This” (the kind of lovey-dovey theme that gets my VC tearing up with just the first few notes; it also concludes the film to earn a place in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame). After falling into bed as well, the two can’t abide never seeing each other again and, since their respective retreats coincide at the same time every year, they plan to meet annually, with the audience checking in every five years or so. The set-up and plot are simple and potentially corny, but Same Time, Next Year is a good example of a film that is elevated by some outstanding performances and dialogue.

Burstyn played Doris on stage as well opposite Charles Grodin, winning a Tony (she also garnered an Oscar nomination), and feels perfectly at ease with the role, even as she metamorphoses over the years from naïve housewife to hippie to confident businesswoman. Conversely, Alda changes in much more subtle ways, yet both remain recognizable and endearingly flawed through the decades. (It’s interesting to note that Alda’s M*A*S*H co-star Loretta Swit also played Doris on Broadway; that would have been a reunion of a different type.) They chat about their lives and families and children and politics, about George’s accountant quirks and Doris’s uncle with a metal plate in his head. As they continue to meet, it becomes clear that much can happen in a year’s time, and their relationship must grow and adapt to the sometimes painful changes they aren’t together to face. And of course, with Alda on hand, there’s a good deal of humor in the conversations too, such as George’s insistence on absolute openness despite habitually lying.

I do endorse this film with reservations, though, since one’s enjoyment from it depends on how well they can suspend their morality. I, for one, believe in faithfulness and monogamy, ideas that may seem foreign in a film about a decades-long affair. Yet as much as George and Doris love each other, they both love their own spouses too and speak affectionately of Helen and Harry. It isn’t all about sex; while most affairs aren’t like this, there is a degree of faithfulness to all the relationships, bonds that are clearly much deeper than a broken marriage or a one-night stand. Whether this is enough to justify the breach of trust is left to the audience, but it’s not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the film.

While my VC’s affection for Same Time, Next Year far surpasses mine, it’s still a romantic dramedy to remember. She claims that the viewer gets to know these characters, even those only mentioned like Harry and Helen, better than almost any other film. While I wouldn’t go that far, George and Doris are indeed the likable sort that I wouldn’t mind reuniting with, maybe, around this time next year.

Best line: (George, often enough for it to almost be his catchphrase) “All right, I didn’t think it through.”

VC’s best line: (George, recounting when they first met) “We had instant rapport. Did you notice that too?   (Doris) “No. But I know we really hit it off.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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