[Film Review] Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Barefoot in the Park poster

Title: Barefoot in the Park
Year: 1967
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Gene Saks
Writer: Neil Simon
Music: Neal Hefti
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Jane Fonda
Robert Redford
Charles Boyer
Mildred Natwick
Herb Edelman
Doris Roberts
Rating: 5.4/10

Barefoot in the Park 1967

Another film adaptation of Neil Simon’s play with the same name, directed by his frequent collaborator, the stage and film directer Gene Saks, who has recently passed away at the age of 93. It pairs Fonda and Redford as a couple of newlyweds Corie and Paul, whose marriage is hanging on a thread when they find out their personalities are poles apart.

Like the outworn running gag of climbing a five-storey building (New Yorkers are really that easy to be defeated by this not-so-challenging altitude?), the film doesn’t weather too well through the time, its story is quite common-or-garden, the adventurous spirit Vs. the prudent comportment, which is also reflected by pairing up their idiosyncratic neighbour Victor (Boyer) and Corie’s widow mother Ethel (Natwick). Nothing is wrong about all that, but the viewing experience is chiefly blighted by Fonda’s hammy endeavour to be “funny”, her character is irritating to say the least, and her high-pitched voice doesn’t help either, surely her hyperactive restlessness is by design, but the effect is cringe-worthy, what is the virtue of this woman (apart from her gymnastic physique)? Maybe it is the gaping generation gap which sours the supposed comedic moment for Generation Y. Also knowing that Simon based the story on his first marriage, it could be a deliberate manoeuvre of aggrandisement with an intent of personal mockery.

Redford, on the other hand, is in a safer place of being likeable, by the way, he is reprising his role in the original play, he has that kind of awkward charm of “pretty boy entrapped in a nicely-fitting suit”, and when it comes to his “barefoot in the park” inebriated caper, he is competent enough to act in a comedy without overdoing what the script offers. But the amorous frisson between him and Fonda has never hit the boiling point, in spite of the fact they kiss a lot in the movie, mostly instigated by the free-spirited Corie, whose aggressive longing and volatility is the killjoy of any romance at all.

Veteran theatrical dab hand Mildred Natwick is honoured with an Oscar nomination for rehashing her role in the film version, she both imposingly and comically personifies Ethel as possibly “the kindest mother-in-law” ever on the silver screen; also Charles Boyer exhibits a droll poise with his exotic panache, oddly enough, their flirtation seems to be more appealing than our two young protagonists. Anyhow, it is sad to find out there is a Jane Fonda’s performance I am wholeheartedly unable to stomach, this is something I could never have expected before watching this substandard Neil Simon flick.


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