“Barefoot in the Park” may be dated but still delightful. This is due to the sparkling performances of a young Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, as well as the not-so-young Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer. It started as a Broadway play so that betrays its origins, lots of dialogue and few location changes. But it was written by Neil Simon so there’s plenty of sharp, snappy, and funny dialogue between the cast in this romantic comedy.
You know that old saying, you never truly know a person until you’ve lived with him/her. Fonda and Redford play Corrie and Paul Bratter, a pair of newlyweds facing the ups and downs of married life, some literal. These include a bachelor apartment on the top floor of a walkup, strange neighbours (including Boyer, who needs to climb through their bedroom window to reach his place in the attic) and an interfering mother/mother-in-law. Much of the comedy centres around the apartment. There is a running joke about the numerous stairs it takes to get to the Bratters’ home, which has a hole in the skylight (in February!), backwards plumbing and dressing room/ bedroom, so small it can’t fit a double bed. You might get some decorating tips for small space living though!
We know nothing of how Corrie and Paul met though it was clearly a case of opposites attracting. Corrie is a free spirit, impulsive and eager to try anything. She is enchanted by her strange neighbours and thinks nothing of setting her mother up on a blind date with the eccentric Mr. Velasco. Paul is a straightlaced conservative type. Naturally he’s a lawyer, albeit it one starting on the bottom rung of the legal ladder. He has too much common sense to walk barefoot in the park with Corrie, who complains he has no sense of the absurd. But it’s Corrie who can’t handle it when her mother never arrives home after her blind date, then shows up in the Bratters’ apartment without her clothes from the night before. However, she is wearing a robe, which belongs to Mr. Velasco. So much for Corrie’s free-spirited attitude. When Paul shows less concern than she thinks he should have, Corrie decides their marriage is a mistake. She wants a divorce. Upset over Corrie, fed up with his job and suffering a cold from the chilly weather let in by the broken skylight, Paul ditches his “stuffed shirt” attitude with a bottle of booze. He not only gets barefoot in the park but ends up on the skylight, needing rescuing. In the end, everyone is a little wiser about life’s realities and a little more joyful about its possibilities.
“Barefoot in the Park” was made in 1967 and it shows its age, more in its views towards women than its Sixties’ trappings. When Boyer’s character Mr. Velasco asks Corrie if she is a folk singer(?), she declares she is a “wife”. There is never any mention of higher education in Corrie’s past or any interests beyond being a wife. Corrie’s mother Ethel (Mildred Natwick) looks incredibly frumpy and suffers from a ulcer (perhaps from worry over her daughter). She also sleeps on a board. The suave Mr. Velasco rattles her so much she forgets her own name.
Despite its datedness, “Barefoot in the Park” is still a wonderful romantic comedy. And it never fails to make me smile.