Ep 14: Barefoot in the Park

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Story Analysis & Ratings:

Lucy says: #Pops ~ Lucy’s rating breakdown: Structure: 1, Comedy: 2, Romance: 1

Jenny says: #Pops ~ Jenny’s rating breakdown: Structure: 1, Comedy: 2, Romance: 1

Blog Poll Rating: TBD

Movie Info:

Story: A free-spirited bride tries to change her conservative lawyer groom. Release Date: May 25, 1967 Director: Gene Saks Writer: Neil Simon. More info at IMDb.

29 responses to “Ep 14: Barefoot in the Park”

  1. i probably shouldn’t be the first person to comment since i didn’t watch the movie this week. i saw it years ago and when it came in the mail from netflix this week i sent it right back and decided that i’d go on memory and figure that if i was really off base i’d go with jenny and lucy and assume that i was just a moron.

    then i logged in and saw the rating… at least for once my memory was correct. not only did i remember the TSTL chick and whining but I was embarrassed for them. but what i remembered most was that there really wasn’t a story. it was just two people doing the same thing in a spiral.

    so, i know that some people love this movie… but this is on a list as an all-time great rom-com?

  2. If Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer had been the leads, Redford and Fonda’s characters would have made satisfactory secondary characters.

  3. This movie is a perfect example of how my tastes have changed and grown. I loved it when I was 13, but at 28, I want to smack to heroine.

    I was one of the people who voted for this, so I apologize. I remembered it being SOOO much better. Argh.

  4. Thank god. I wasn’t at all interested in revisiting this, although I couldn’t remember why. You’ve boosted my discernment confidence.

  5. I remember loving the Bess Armstrong/Richard Thomas version when I was a kid, but if the script/story was the same, I can’t imagine it would have been any better. The romance between Ethel and Velasco was kind of cute, but still… ugh.

    I think this plays when you’re 12 – that was about when I loved the version I’d seen – because honestly, the maturity level of these characters is about right there.

    I was surprised, considering it was Neil Simon. I haven’t watched a Neil Simon play or movie in a long time, but I remember really liking him. I’ll be interested to see how well Goodbye Girl plays; I loved that one when I was a kid, too.

  6. I think they were named “The Bratters” for a reason. Man, they’re annoying. Corie acts 12 years old. ‘Nuff said.

  7. Clearly there are people who think it’s amazing or iconic or something because it’s in the top 100 on AFI’s Best Romance’s list.

    Which I think begs the question: Are the movies that aren’t on the list just so much worse or are they just movies that fell through the cracks?

  8. I’ve given up on AFI; NO idea how they pick their movies.
    I think this is a good example of a movie that tries to ride on the charm of its characters in a particular time period. I have vague memories of liking it back when I liked everything Neil Simon did. But when I saw it, I was still buying into most of the crap that Cory assumes. They were so cute and had such snappy fights. I kept asking myself last night if it was really as bad as I thought or if I was just in a bad mood and taking it out on the movie, but I think it’s just that bad.
    There are two big problems, I think.
    The first one is that the heroine is so unsympathetic. The only thing I could find to like about her was her attitude about sex: she was all for it and never used it to manipulate him. If she was mad at him, she pushed him away, but she never used sex as a weapon. Other than that, I got nothing, and if I don’t like a heroine enough to follow her through the story, the story is done.
    But even if Cory had been charming, there was no there there. No real problem, no real barrier, no nothing. It was just people running around being quirky badly.
    We’re still trying to find the clip of Mildred rolling down the stairs. Huge laugh there. Otherwise . . . bad movie.

  9. It’s funny because I wasn’t going to look at any of the ratings or comments before I posted because I didn’t want to be influenced in what I said but a 1 caught my attention before I could look away and then I had to read everything.

    I didn’t hate the film but, then again, I had low expectations for the movie. I didn’t think it was a good romcom though – by any stretch of the imagination. There were some funny lines but I whole-heartedly agree with Merry’s comment “if Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer had been the leads, Redford and Fonda’s characters would have made satisfactory secondary characters.”

    Jane Fonda’s character came across as a whiny, clingy and from the time they first stepped out of the hotel room at the end of six days, I was thinking there was going to have to be a lot of work done on the characters for me to believe they were going to make it. I figured they weren’t married a month because they’d been in the hotel for six days and having dinner on Tuesday when all hell broke loose – unless I’m forgetting something major. And in that time they were talking divorce and she threw him out. At the end of it all, I kind of viewed the only reason he was willing to come back and take her back is because he was delirious with fever and drunk as a skunk. Once he sobered up, it’d be all over again.

    Any movie (or book, for that matter) that I can’t believe in a HEA, I can’t believe as a romance and since that’s half of what makes the romcom, this falls in the NRC for me.

    But I did enjoy Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer’s characters. 🙂

  10. Yes, Jenny, it was THAT bad.

    I love the comic strip! It sums up my feelings about this movie perfectly.

  11. I’ve seen this a few times over the years and couldn’t join in last night but I did log onto the twitter feed just before the end and you all were being so hard on it that I wanted to say something good about this one. Just because I’m contrary like that. When my husband came home I was talking to him about it. As an actor he’s been involved in and seen many more productions of Neil Simon’s work than he ever wanted too. As his wife I’ve been to plenty as well and I feel the same. He defines Simon’s comedy as mid-20th century relationship comedy. I think those qualifiers explain why this movie hasn’t held up well.

    I think, as Jenny mentioned above, Neil Simon’s work is very much a part of it’s time and the comedy works only in as much as it references the experiences of the audience. At this point, some 40 years after this movie was made, even those of us who lived in that time are now viewing it through a very different lens. Small wonder we have so little patience with the characters that he applied the shorthand labels to: silly selfish young bride, stuffed shirt humorless young groom, neurotic stick in the mud mother and aging carefree lothario.

    Obviously, I don’t think the writing of this work transcends its time. Yet, I can’t totally hate this movie. I think that Mildred Natwick is the one who saves it for me, and to some extent Charles Boyer. Both of them project a warmth and wry self awareness into their characters that lift them up above the cardboard cut-outs they could be. Whether Cory and Paul’s characters could have been equally saved by a fuller portrayal, I’m not sure. I do agree though, that with a better developed story and hero/heroine nobody would have to do as much heavy lifting to sell this story.

    I’m with Verona, “The Goodbye Girl” isn’t likely to stand up well either. Very dated heroine character in that one as well.

  12. Not a fan of this movie, other than watching Mildred Natwick. Once was enough for me. Just saw American Dreamer, would watch it again anytime. I don’t know why I have never seen it. Loved the movie.

  13. Best comment:
    “When you’re hoping for a murder/suicide in the first act, it kind of kills the romance.” – Lucy

  14. I think Barefoot was flawed, but I believe an argument can be made that it was never intended to be a rom-com. It think its failures are interesting, and yet I think when we look at its failures, we can actually appreciate some of what was attempted in the movie.

    This story has diverged from the others in a few key ways. It was a play originally (not the only one but this is important), it takes place after the wedding (again, it’s not the only one, but this is important too), and it takes place on the cusp of two important things – the adulthood of the baby boomers and the threshold of women’s lib.

    The Philidelphia Story and His Girl Friday were other movies that had been plays. Both also had the characters that were wed, however, they were post-divorce stories, which were created to get around censorhip of showing extramarital affairs. I’m not familiar enough with TPS to know how drastically the play diverged from the screenplay, but I would guess that it was pretty significant given all the locations where the movie was shot. And HGF was significantly changed as well, since The Front Page’s Hildey is a man.
    Since Barefoot was a play, much about the movie is tied to the tropes of the play. The sets are very limited (although they have been expanded a little bit in the film, if I remember the play correctly) and the camera work is set back. I think this had the unfortunate effect of wasting the opportunity of film, and messing with the audience’s ability to connect with the characters. In theater, all the gestures have to be large; the audience member 4 rows back will miss the nuances of the eyes. Film allows the audience to see facial expressions. By not choosing to use the film well, the audience was kept at a distance from the characters. I think, too, that this is why Robert Redford’s Paul translated better than Jane Fonda’s Corey. Redford had played this role on Broadway.

    I think the story Simon intended to write was about what happens the day after. What happens when two people wake up, comb the rice out their hair and realize their spouse has morning breath? I wondered this when Paul doesn’t know Corey is teasing (or lying) about her mother being an actress. I got the impression that the really didn’t know all that much about each other yet. The shock of being married is very real, even for people who’d dated several years before the wedding. (OK, me) I don’t think it was a Vegas wedding, but I do think we are to think it was a swift courtship.

    In the podcast Jenny noted that rom-com is always going to be a little behind the curve, but I actually disagree on that point, for both the play and the movie. The play was written in 1963; the first baby-boomers were 18 – 20, The Feminine Mystique was printed in February, in November Kennedy would be assassinated. Between the play and the movie, the pill became more widely available (but not legal for all unmarried women until 1972). I think Corey’s sexuality here is vital, and frankly, fun. I completely agree with the observations in the podcast regarding the elevator scene, and I don’t recall that even being in the stage play. IMO, it’s the first failure in the film translation. I don’t think it should ever have been added. The underage joke does fail (I found it about as funny as I found the slapping in Father Goose). I think it was Jenny who said Corey should have been spanked more. Perhaps Simon thought so too.

    Its second failure was having Corey be too self-absorbed. I believe Simon was examining the problems with the notion that opposites attract. Cory and Victor act too young for their age, and Paul and Corey’s mother act too old for their age. They all need to come to a balance. The phone man? He is the chorus, and he echoes the audience’s optimism and fear. (I didn’t find VV as creepy as Lucy did. But everyone is right; Ethyl was the best in the show.

    Both Jenny and Lucy rated this a “1” for structure, but I disagree. I believe Simon has actually attempted a Virgin’s Promise here. Not all of these translate well, but again, this is an early attempt. She is leaving a dependant world as a daughter. She’s afraid to decorate her apartment – afraid of expressing herself/the price of conformity? She has an opportunity to shine and she dresses the part by finishing the apartment and hosting the party. I think the secret world steps through the caught shining steps are represented by the dinner and restaurant scenes Obviously after that the kingdom is in chaos and ultimately she will have to choose the light by recognizing her errors and rescuing Paul. It’s flawed, and there are steps missing and muddled, but I think a 1 is too harsh. The structure is messed up, but at least Corey doesn’t host her dinner party in Russia on May day.

    In his book, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies, Gerald Mast lists the mid-1960s as the end of the Dialogue Tradition in movies. Writing in 1979, he states “Since the mid-1960s, with the demise of dialogue and the rise of cinematic experiential metaphor, the comic-dialogue tradition has been sustained by cinematic translations of Broadway comedies or films by directors (or authors) of Broadway comedies. [The Graduate and Carnal Knowledge] both exhibit strong control over comic human interaction and dialogue and much less consistant control over the cinemas means of recording them…. [Little Murders and Play it Again Sam] and the filmed versions of Neil Simon’s plays, which are as close to television situation comedy as Broadway and the movies can get, all represent the remnants of a once vigorous dialogue tradition.”

    I seem to remember we had a hard time coming up with titles for this era. I think this movie was important to watch, but I also think that it is very tied to its times in both the themes it addresses, and what was going on in cinema and rom-com in general. All in all, I thought it was problematic, but I liked it better than Father Goose.

    Structure: 3
    Comedy: 3
    Romance: 2

  15. JulieB – these are all excellent points, and very well articulated, which is awesome. I think you make a good point about the divergence from the stage play; as a matter of fact, I think all that stuff early on to which we objected so strongly was probably not in the stage version.

    You’re absolutely right that they didn’t use the strength of film – the close up – to any great advantage here. And it’s possible that Corie in the hands of an actress who played her differently might have worked better. So, there may be a defense for the stage version.

    But the film version had that awful stuff in the beginning, and so has to be accountable for it. Jane Fonda played Corie weakly, and that hurt the film. And what might have worked in a stage version simply didn’t in the filmed one. So, regardless of what strengths the stage play might have had, they didn’t translate to the film and that’s what we’re judging.

    I also don’t think that Corie working up the skill and confidence to host a dinner party is even remotely what this movie is about, so while I respect your argument, I don’t think it counts as a real structure. The movie is supposed to be a silly romance between a newlywed couple, not about a woman finding herself within the confines of marriage, so I stand by my ratings.

    I like your arguments, though. 🙂

  16. Good stuff, Julie. Really pushed me to think.

    Re Simon’s intent, which really doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re evaluating, he’d said that this was the story of his marriage. Since he adored his wife, he probably thought the ditziness was wonderful. I’d venture a guess that he also ran into the problem that most writers do when trying to take a story from real life: he just told it the way it happened, making it better without realizing there was no story there.

    I think if you leave aside intent and time period and all the other stuff which I think you have to do to analyze what makes the story work, the movie fails first and foremost on character and plot. I don’t know the Virgin’s Promise (well, i wouldn’t), but I know that basic structure is
    1. Start with conflict, real conflict with real barriers, between a protagonist and an antagonist.
    2. Escalate the conflict as the characters struggle against real barriers so that the trouble gets deeper and the stakes rise.
    3. Resolve the conflict through the actions of the protagonist against the antagonist.

    The story starts with protagonist Cory not understanding antagonist Paul and Paul not understanding Cory and that does create conflict, but only because they’re really selfish with each other. Cory humiliates him in the elevator, he climbs six lousy flights of stairs and bitches at her about the apartment despite the fact that she’s found an apartment in Manhattan that they can afford and she hasn’t had a chance to fix it up yet. They create their own problems through their own immaturity (and I’m good with that actually) but then they whine and bitch at each other about that throughout the story. They don’t escalate because there are no real barriers. Yes, she decides to get a divorce, but it’s not a decision she’s pushed to, she’s just a three-year-old who’s going to take her toys and go home. She doesn’t HAVE to get a divorce, it’s just the latest tantrum she’s throwing. You can do fluff, but even in fluff there have to be consequences and the viewer has to care.

    Then she has an epiphany in a conversation with her mother. She just changes her mind. She does the rom-com-run to find him, and he’s drunk and angry and throws a drunk tantrum. Nothing in their conversation or in the scene on the roof tells me anything’s really changed. Of course, she’s appalled he’s on the roof, she’d be appalled if Harry Pepper was on the roof. But they’re the same spoiled children at the end that they were at the beginning because they never had a real conflict and they never have a real change of heart. He doesn’t go barefoot in the park to show her he’s changed and he understands her, he goes barefoot because he’s drunk on his ass. She doesn’t say, “Look, I understand our future depends on us working together,” she said, “Don’t jump, I love you.” They don’t change.

    Which means there’s no there there.

    Also I was 13 when this story was written and trust me, for the vast majority of women in this country, there was no women’s lib then, no matter what was getting published in New York. The heavy stuff didn’t start until the seventies; I didn’t become a feminist until the summer of 1983. So Cory is reflective of the generic rom com heroine at the time, I think, just more shrill and whiny without the benefit of a real problem to create real growth.

    In the end, though, it’s what you think it was. Lucy and I disagreed vastly on How To Steal a Million; I’m good with agreeing to disagree with you on this one.

    One of the things I’m coming to realize is that it actually doesn’t matter when a movie was filmed. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, it means that somewhere along the way somebody forgot structure or comedy or romance or all of the above. Which I’m actually happy about because it means we can say, “Look, this works no matter what era,” and “This doesn’t work no matter what era.”

  17. Interesting discussion. Jenny, I do disagree with you on your concluding paragraph.

    I would agree that structure works or doesn’t work on its own merits outside the era. But I would argue that our definitions of comedy and romance are more tied to social mores and therefore movies which reference the attitudes of their time very strongly may really work for the audiences of their time but fail to work for us.

    So are we really judging which movies stand the test of time as romantic comedy? I kind of feel that we are and that’s ok, maybe even inevitable. We are of our time and its hard to step out of that unless historical perspective is taken into account as Julie did with her great comments. Of course, it would mean that our judgement of the romance & comedy in the contemporary movies will be slanted due to current attitudes.

  18. It’s really hard to work outside our current attitudes, I agree. What I was hoping to find was a kind of Rosetta Stone for romcom: this stuff always works. I’d argue classic structure always works (all the way back to Aristotle). I think I can make a case for showing the arc from immature to mature love (see It Happened One Night). Comedy is harder; I’m still a little guilty that we roared over Mildred rolling down those steps, although a good pratfall is timeless. I think it’s the synthesis of the three: a strongly constructed plot with a psychologically viable romance at the heart of it that fuels and is fueled by the comedy. My goal is to be able to articulate all of this next February when our 36 weeks is up.
    And really, with each movie, I get clearer in my mind about what makes a good romcom. I think Lucy feels she’s learning a lot, too. What about the rest of you? Is this illuminating at all?

  19. I AM learning a lot.

    I will rebut tomorrow if I don’t need a nap after teaching.

    I DO think, though, that we are looking for movies that stand the test of time. The more I do this, the more I realize that if I were going to rank these from best to worst, NOTHING so far would topple It Happened One Night. I did want to point out that this era was problematic for rom-com, and I think I argued that well. I think in the final anaylsis we’ll all agree the late 60 -early 70s there was a derth of rom-com from Hollywood.

    I’m going to propose something that I’d hope will be considered in the middle of winter. Not only do I still like (no love) the idea of a foreign film month, but I also think we should consider a “should have seen” list, maybe 4 or 6 that we should watch now that we have the hang of this, to rate in comparison with the rest.

    Should we have watched Pat and Mike or Adam’s Rib? And there are only 3 titles in Feb. What about The Bounty? (Team Aniston players take note — we could compare it to Mr. and Mrs. Smith).

  20. I am so Team Aniston.
    Lucy and I have talked about Theme months once we work our way through the 36 on the list. We’re holding off on it in case we look at each other and say, “Never again,” in February, but as of now, we’re both really enjoying it. I like the idea of a Should Have Seen list. Lucy wants a Robert Downey Jr Month. There are a lot of ways to go, but I think you’re right, Julie, we can regroup in February as we’re nearing the end and recalibrate what we’re doing here. One thing I’d like to do is take the American restriction off. I think it was useful for the historical survey, but I think once that’s done and it’s wide open, we should be able to select from anywhere. Assuming we keep going. I may be in the fetal position screaming by then. February is not a good month in Ohio.

  21. Personally, I’ve been learning a great deal about the importance of structure and character during the Popcorn Dialogues; it’s like Film studies 3-100. Even the exercise of moving systematically through the past 70 years of American culture has been fascinating for me.

    As for “Barefoot in the Park,” I have to agree with that most excellent cartoon, “This bad film just oozed rottenness from every bad scene.” I don’t think it was a romantic comedy. Certainly the structure didn’t work. Ditto the characters didn’t work. Her character is not just unbelievable but an embarrassment to womankind. She did have fantastic clothes, kudos to Edith Head. His character is supposed to be a foil for hers, but I just kept thinking of Oliver Wendell Holmes (or was it someone else?) who said that Washington D.C. was a city of powerful men and the women they had married when they were young. One doesn’t feel there’s a HEA at the end at all.

    I try to imagine this story in its time, back when women were virgins when they married. That doesn’t help. I think of her character in the context of the Doris Day character in Pillow Talk, Shirley McClaine in the Apartment (NRC), Leslie Caron in Father Goose, Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million, and it doesn’t help. Was THIS the change in Female role models produced by the Feminist movement? Will we see more of this character going forward? The only character that I have seen so far that seems in the same mold is that of Kathy-while-bopped-on-the-head’s Rebecca Ryan in American Dreamer. So is that the future for Corie Bratter? She settles down to suburban domesticity with her dull husband and 15 years on dreams of returning to her naturally vivacious self?

    It’s interesting that the good films we have seen are timeless; the characters, relationships and structures continue to work across decades. Even more fascinating are the films that were considered brilliant in their day but now ooze rottenness. I wonder what causes that change from celebrated comedy to embarrassment?

    comedy: 1
    structure: 1
    romance: NRC

  22. You know, I don’t even know if I can blame the Corie-hatred on Jane Fonda. The character’s awful as written.

  23. I am learning at lot as well. February is not a great month on the west coast, rain, rain, rain, so a good movie on a Friday night is always great. Yes, take off the American restriction, if you choose to continue. Perhaps, every second Friday evening, if it is gets too much for you and Lucy. This was a stinker movie. Annoying characters, other than Mildred, whom I love, even falling down the stairs.

    I gave DIL’s sister, a series of old movies to watch as she is really into the old Hollywood glamour look. She loved them. Another young woman hated them as she was viewing them from a feminist’s POV and found them offensive. It was the era of the movie and if it works, it works, if it does not, it’s a stinker just like many of today’s movies.

  24. Like Kitty, I’ve been learning a lot about character and structure from these discussions.

    In reading books, my own brain supplying the characters and action sometimes does too good a job of filling in character arc and motivations. Certainly that’s always part of the reading experience, but sometimes the amount of character development I’m putting in becomes really unbalanced from what the author is actually giving to the reader. It can be tough for me to tease out my own “work” from the author’s.

    While movies have the distractions of performance and direction which might gloss over problems or highlight strengths, I find these are easier to clear away as I listen to you all discuss it and now I’m doing it more on my own before I ever get to the discussions. I guess the performance element distances me from the story a bit and that lets me have a clearer perspective.

    Not sure if I made a point there or not – hope so.

    Also, I like the idea of themes or a wish we had included list if everyone doesn’t burn out by the end.

  25. @Kitty Hezlitt re: “Was THIS the change in female role models produced by the Feminist movement?”

    No, I think female role models like these are what the feminist movement was reacting AGAINST.

    Even though The Feminine Mystique was published in 1963, the National Organization for Women wasn’t founded until 1967 and the feminist movement didn’t really become a national force to be reckoned with until the 1970s. So those feminist-inspired female role models probably wouldn’t have made their way into popular culture until the late 1970s. Also, there were a lot of movies in the late 70s and well into the 1980s that show our culture’s discomfort with the changes brought about by the feminist movement. (Don’t forget all those late 1970s and early 1980s slasher films dealing out gruesome death to young women.)

    To get back to the movie, I agree that it is difficult to believe in a HEA for Corie and Paul. For me, that’s often the problem with “opposites attract” romances, : if they are truly opposite, instead of merely different with complementary personalities, it’s hard to believe they won’t spend their lives having the same fights over and over again until they finally call it quits. It never really seems plausible that the characters can remain true to who they really are and make a relationship work.

  26. These are great comments; love the discussion.
    I didn’t become a feminist until the fall of 1983, and believe me, I was fertile ground. It took a long time to spread and take hold nationwide which is why my generation often gets tagged as radicals in the “Hey, we fought for that stuff you’re taking for granted” vein, but I’m grateful my daughter’s generation takes it for granted. It means we won. Still a long way to go, but that’s an accomplishment.

    I don’t think that’s the problem with Cory’s character. It’ll be interesting to see what Goldie Hawn’s dingbat cutie character does in Cactus Flower this week because I remember her as being sympathetic even though she was dumb as a rock and sleeping a married man. The Innocent is not an annoying character because of her innocence. Cory was annoying because she was selfish and mean. That’s timeless.

    I really do think that great storytelling is timeless. Look at Jan in Pillow Talk: she’s in the middle of the fifties and she’s a great heroine. Then you look at Abby in The Ugly Truth in 2009 and want to strangle her. There’s a reason It Happened One Night is still the touchstone for romantic comedy in spite of the funny cars and clothes: It’s a story about people we care about who have real struggles and who fight for their happy ending. I think that’s a universal, I really do. And I don’t believe in universals.

  27. I was going to say, “Wow, I’m glad I chose this week to skive off on the classwork.” But after reading the comments, I have a feeling this is a real learning film.

    But I may have to come back and pick it up during winter vacation. The podcasts will still be up that long, won’t they?