Same Time Next Year (1978): Theatrical Comedy Starring Ellen Burstyn

Scripted by Bernard Slade, based on his stage play, “Same Time Next Year” is an overly literal, overly theatrical comedy about “little people” that ends up being little itself in the way it is staged and acted. Add to it a patronizing mode toward its two characters and you have a below-mediocre picture that, surprisingly, is directed by Robert Mulligan, who has made many good pictures, including “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn (neither of whom had originated the role on Broadway) play individuals who first meet at a country inn called Sea Shadow in the early 1950s and then continue to have a one-night stand for the next 25 years. That’s all there’s to it: What you see is what you get.

The central situation is unlikely: Without interruption, for 25 years, a married man and a married woman meet in a picturesque motel on the California coast to carry out a tryst, an annual weekend affair

Inexplicably, Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Oscar for playing Doris, a scatter-brained housewife who annually awaits for her husband to pack the kids off to visit his mother. She has always taken, this time, Irish Catholic as she is, to go on retreat. Her partner-in-crime George (Alda) is a provincial but good-hearted, neurotically guilt-ridden accountant form New Jersey

Divided into chapters, Slade discloses snippets about his boring persona and boring lives. We learn that Doris never felt comfortable around her mother-in-law, as she says: “She doesn’t like me because I got pregnant and Harry had to leave dental college to support the family.” Or that in 1961, George was impotent and Doris was pregnant, and that they named the daughter he delivered in their room Georgette.

We never got to see the other spouses, which is for the better.
But we find out that one spouse, George’s, dies in the course of their friendship, having known for ten years of her partner’s shenanigans.

The movie tries to say something significant about America’s changing mores and manners over three decades, but what we get instead is tiresome dialogue that’s borderline banal, and routine, predictable humor.

Both Alda and Burstyn are likable performers that often elevate the material of their movies, but not here. Quite mysteriously, the movie was nominated for four Oscars, which means that 1978 was a weak year. (See below).