Bob and Carol Saunders attend a group therapy session at a remote cabin location. There they encounter other couples who learn to become open with their feelings and sexuality. When they return home they find that their friends Ted and Alice are too repressed.
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Alice, they don’t want to know what you think, they want to know what you feel!" So proclaims Ted (Elliott Gould) in Paul Mazursky’s brilliant Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice… This kind of empathetic thoughtfulness, this love for people, no matter how flawed, this observation that life is simultaneously real and surreal, was one of Mazursky’s great gifts as a storyteller.
For his part, Mazursky liberates a powerful, turbulent and contradictory emotionalism. The movie is comical throughout, with lots of satirical, and even mocking, glances at the new habits of the day, including the casual prevalence of drug use and the ludicrous new fashions. Yet the characters, beneath their psychobabble, beneath their ribaldry, and beneath their confusion, display a terrifying vulnerability.
Mazursky’s film is too warm to be called skewering, but the film undoubtedly has some gentle fun with its middle-class boho wannabes. The sexual revolution is a source of mockery here, and Mazursky’s masterstroke is to make his moralizing play like commiseration… It’s not really a sex movie at all, but rather a film about people pawing at the idea of sexual liberation like kittens at balls of string.
In Mazursky's film there is a moral and ethical depth and a willingness to deconstruct internal struggles that other films would gladly repress. Grounded in four exquisite performances, the film evolves with its characters, always with an acute sense of satire, to provide a well-rounded portrait of a generation, that might as well be ours. Bob&Carol&Ted&Alice is undoubtedly one of the hidden treasures of the '60s.
A smart comedy for adults—told with a literary sensibility, sharply drawn characters and plenty of humor—from when that wasn't such an exception in American cinemas. I partly wondered if I was watching a male fantasy, as these beautiful women winsomely accept their husbands' infidelities and sexual hang-ups, until the last act grows sufficiently complicated once male insecurity rears its head (you knew it would).
I consider the last five minutes of the film, from the moment the characters leave their room, as a great slice of cinematic grace. The rest of the movie is an interesting satirical comedy of manners. Recommended.