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Review: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

Directed by: Paul Mazursky

Premise: When a couple (Natalie Wood and Elliot Gould) begin to experiment with free love, it complicates their relationship with their friends (Robert Culp and Dyan Cannon).

What Works: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is an important, but not as widely remembered, film of the New Hollywood era. Although this is a film of the counterculture and of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, it does not slavishly follow the agenda of those movements. Like Easy Rider, this is a movie that simultaneously demonstrates the mindset and possibilities of the counterculture, exploring concepts like freedom and sexual identity, but maintains a critical perspective. The film dramatizes ideas of free love and in the dramatization the film is able to reveal the new conflicts that arise from it. In the process, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice has moments that are very funny; some of the laughs come from the awkwardness of uncharted sexuality, others come from Paul Mazursky and Larry Tucker’s witty dialogue, and still more humor is generated at the expense of countercultural values. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice has a complex relationship to the counter culture; it does not dissmss it outright but it does have a sardonic posture toward it, and the actors capture this perfectly. As liberal couple Bob and Carol, Natalie Wood and Elliot Gould play their roles earnestly and even as the film pokes fun at their ideas the audience takes those ideas seriously because the characters do. As conservative couple Ted and Alice, Robert Culp and Dyan Cannon embody a less flamboyant but equally complex marital relationship and as Bob and Carol’s experiment with sexual freedom impacts Ted and Alice’s relationship and brings the tensions of a traditional relationship to the forefront. This all sets the film up for its climax in which both liberal and conservative convictions are put to the test.

What Doesn’t: The ending of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is stagy in its execution and concept. While it works thematically, it does come off a bit too theatrical for the naturalistic style of the rest of the movie. 

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette.

Bottom Line: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is an important film of the late 1960s that is worth a look by fans of its contemporaries like The Graduate and The Last Picture Show. It is also a film that foreshadows a lot of recent films like When Harry Met Sally, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and No Strings Attached. This is a funny, smart, and entertaining film about sex, love, and friendship.

Episode: #326 (February 13, 2011)