24 February 2011 | jzappa
"The honeymoon's over. It's time to get married."
The main accomplishment of Pete 'n' Tillie is the skill put into it for hitting the symmetry amongst the hilarious and the heartbreaking, between moments of earnest gravitas and other moments of priceless high comedy and even slapstick. What happens in the story is supposed to happen. Life's like that. In one go, Pete 'n' Tillie is an entertainment feat, with its high comic panache, its dexterity with bittersweet dramaturgy and its star turns for its two tremendously talented leads. The special thing about this movie is the way it merges those two tonal styles, with even more subtlety and naturalism than the films of later periods.
Indeed, this is a sharp, surprisingly heartfelt and charming movie of the early '70s, with a skillfully lasting and subdued tone of melancholy. Writer-producer Julius J. Epstein has seized hold of priceless dialogue and a theme of togetherness. The title characters are two sardonically mileage-developing San Francisco pragmatists who meet at a party and like one another virtually in spite of themselves. Owing to their age, they're seasoned enough to realize that "love without irritation is just lust." They get going, wed, raise a bright son and experience a paralyzing family predicament whose subtle, poignant handling is the most appreciable thing about this offbeat love story beholden to George Stevens' superior Penny Serenade.
It's a straightforward comedy that soaks up tragedy without an awkward wrinkle. This owes to the always subtle, sophisticated and refined direction of Martin Ritt, normally helming much less sentimental material, shrewdly of course. Then there is Geraldine Page, as Burnett's well-heeled friend, whose succinct, horrified charade at a police station and the subsequent catfight pack that beautiful release of laughter after a tragic peak. Like most great comics, Burnett, held in rein by a somber, down-to-earth story, is impressive, even in graver moments that feel as if the material was contrived to the point of bathos. Matthau has given more cumbersome performances but none more disarming since The Odd Couple.