Back in the 70s, a whirlwind decade of diverse cinematic creativity with room enough for feminist domestic and rogue action genres, playwright projects brought to Hollywood invariably fell short of box office expectations. There was an intimacy on the stage that didn't always translate well to a big screen hungry for horror blockbusters. Despite it all, a production optimism in film went with the flow and enabled couples movies like this to gain a cult audience with the passage of time.
Same Time Next Year, a Universal release directed by Robert Mulligan, was a hot property female lead Ellen Burstyn won the Tony for on Broadway. In the me decade, she was a tour de force talent who defined the times and was among the first actresses to pick and nurture her projects like a would-be producer. Although leading men to rival her screen presence were rare back then, a movie with this mother hen player was worth seeing since her vivacious vitality often carried her pictures.
The Bernard Slade script adapted from his play charts in fits and restarts a quarter century adulterous relationship between a housewife (Burstyn) and accountant (Alan Alda) in Northern California that spans from the 1950s to the 1970s. They meet one weekend a year for more than two and a half decades. When not in passion throes, their everyday spouses and family problems are often the topic of conversation. But lovers spats that result do not detract from the continuity of their chemistry longevity.
As a pop pictorial montage of the passage of years fills the screen accented and highlighted by the theme song, "The Last Time I Felt Like This", written by Marvin Hamlisch and the Bergmans and sung by Johnny Mathis, the CA Pacific resort inn backdrop makes it more romance than comedy. Since over the course of their affair she shows up pregnant, he loses his son in Vietnam and they are unable to insulate their discreet long term union from the politics of the times or the respective changes in their lives.
In the 3rd act, his marriage proposal ultimatum after the loss of his wife who knew of the affair for at least 10 years, turns out to be an anti-climax as they wind up extending the annual extramarital ritual indefinitely. If the resolution is kitsch, and miscast Alan Alda was too boyishly comedic as a male romeo lead, Burstyn even outshone Charles Grodin in the original play. As a fire astro type, she may have needed an air sign co-star to compliment her cheating charisma in the movie romance spotlight.
Ellen, a relatively late blooming icon in Hollywood, was well into her late 40s in this underrated and lighthearted play act study of risque love. But she pulls off the time lapsed role with the figure, wardrobe and makeup of an ingenue. And for that transformation, one wishes that she had more romance in her on screen life in between the blockbusters she is best known for. If Burstyn had a private life in conflict with her success, the most prolific thespians tend to live through their art via cupid make-believe.
You won't find many witty romance releases like Same Time these years. If it was uneven due to Alda's sitcom TV ubiquity, it is still a welcome wistful taste of the image Burstyn might have portrayed if she had fallen in love a lot more as a big screen drama queen. For fans of heroines of independent women in film who guided their destinies as equal partners in the creative process, this lady's 70s breakthrough is movie legend. Rent the film version of her Broadway hit here or buy it there.