Debut splashes, Paul Mazursky’s BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE is a biting satire channels the experiment of “openness” in human correlations through its epoch’s sex-liberating ethos. The four protagonists are two married couples who are each other's closest friends, Bob (Culp) and Carol (Wood) Sanders, Ted (Gould) and Alice (Cannon) Henderson.
In its opening aerial shots, a preamble shows Bob and Carol attending a group therapy (denoted by nudism and t’aichi) during a weekend getaway and culminating in the mutual opening of their true feelings towards each other. Returning to L.A., the couple decides to proselytize their newly acquired enlightenment into their day-to-day life, Carol's blunt bash with a maître d’ doesn’t pan out well, and Ted joshes his“feelings" for laughter’s sake.
Bob’s confession of a one-night-stand happened during his trip in San Francisco, meets with Carol’s thorough understanding and even affection, for acknowledging him being bravely honest, but when Carol casually drops the bomb to Ted and Alice, after a pot-sharing get-together, the tidings overtly ruffle their feathers (Alice is physically sick afterwards). During their pillow talk, Ted and Alice have a spat over which of Bob's act should be accountable for the whammy, the confession or the cheating? Later the scenario segues into a heated argument about their own marital hiccups, which are boiled down to the discrepancy between their “in the mood” timings, nudge nudge.
Rather, Alice is the more prudish type and totally blindsided by Bob’s infidelity and Carol’s irrational magnanimity, but in a session with her shrink, Alice reveals her aversion of physical touch and makes a Freudian slip of her suppressed attraction to Bob, the one she claims to be repulsed by, which validates Mazursky’s astute insight in the sheer dichotomy between one’s outward conviction and innate id, moreover, in a later development, he trenchantly eschews the blasé double-standard recrimination when allows Carol being caught red-handed during her physical emancipation with another stud by an unwitting Bob, which spurs a comical catharsis throwing off any surplus of macho ego.
The quartet winds up in an orgiastic attempt during their Las Vegas suite-sharing sojourn, the money shot is actuated by Bob and Carol’s mutual leniency in adulterous impulse and Ted’s admission of his recent affair, but roundly broached by an exasperating Alice when her last shield is breached. Appended their experiment with a sober coda in concert with the rousing anthem WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE, penned by Hal David and Burt Bacharach,sung by Jackie DeShannon, Mazursky's relationship, friendship dissecting film ultimately extracts a prudent message, whereas libido often culminates in an ephemeral thrill, there are many things in our live are (way) more important than sex, keeping a sane mind when you are pursuing your carnal desire.
A cracking foursome stalwartly shores up the intriguing narrative, Natalie Wood beautifully combines her wide-eyed gaiety (“you are so beautiful” never loses its earnestness in her intonation) with a disarming maturity that tells more about her faculty if she is given time to mellow; Robert Culp exerts eloquently his devilish charm and a hirsute Elliott Gould impresses as the charming wise-cracker with a patina of faux-naïf self-awareness. But for my money, the biggest assets is the transcendentDyan Cannon (freshly striving for a career after her divorce with Cary Grant), her Alice is arguably the most conventional and relatable character among the four and she gives a galvanizing, uncompromising thrust that grants first-timer Mazursky’s hipster, boundary-exploring dramedy some thumping heartbeats.
referential points: Mazursky’s AN UNMARRIED WOMAN (1978, 7.7/10), John Cassavetes’ FACES (1968, 8.0/10).