Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Love Story

I like to think of myself as a bit of a film buff.  No, really, I do.  But, despite my vast knowledge on the subject, every so often I find an acclaimed movie that I have never seen or heard of.  When I first learned that Love Story earned seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay, I assumed that this was one powerhouse of a movie.  Hell, it was up against M.A.S.H. and Patton in all the major categories that year, so being nominated has to mean this film is good, right?  Right?

From the very first overdubbed line of dialogue, you know what kind of movie Love Story will be: "What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?"  Hopefully, that her life story was made into a slapstick comedy.  No?  Well, this looks like a downer.

Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal), a Harvard student, is trying to persuade the female student bouncer at the Radcliffe library to let him borrow a book so he can study.  Why any library has somebody working the door to prevent the entrance of readers is beyond me, but I'm not an Ivy League sort of guy.  The bouncer keeps giving Harvard boy grief, but is simultaneously flirting with him in the bitchiest way possible.  You know what I mean, insulting his intelligence and then saying something along the lines of "If you're so smart, why aren't you asking me out? ...Not that I would say yes."  That sort of crap.  Ladies, trust your Uncle Brian: don't flaunt your crazy bitchiness before you get to know a guy (or girl).  In the interest of fairness between the sexes, fellas, don't flaunt your stupidity early, either.

Well, the bouncer's tactics worked.  The bouncer, Jennifer Cavelleri (Ali MacGraw), and Oliver start dating.  Oliver is richie rich, with one of Harvard's buildings named after his family, but he is uncomfortable with his wealth.  Whenever he gets the chance, Oliver IV: A New Hope tries to defy his father, Oliver III: Revenge of the Sith (Ray Milland), whether by refusing to apply to law school or by dating a girl he knows his father would disapprove of, based solely on social status.  Jennifer comes from a working-class background, and her father (John Marley) is beyond proud of her, although she maintains a first-name relationship with him.  This is a love story, so the two obviously fall for each other and, as the opening lines announce, she dies young.  The end.

How long did that take you to read?  If it was less than ninety-nine minutes, then I just saved you a lot of time you might have wasted on this movie.  If that didn't save you time, then you should really re-enroll in preschool.  I wasn't a big fan of this movie, but it's hard for me to pinpoint why.  I felt that the script was trying too hard to be clever with its dialogue, for starters.  The words "goddamn" and "bullshit" are thrown around like they're party favors, but instead of sounding natural (like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction) or shocking (The Exorcist or Steve  Martin's famous scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles), they sound forced, like a ten-year-old trying to subtly prove how cool he is.  I really don't think the script gives any reason for these two to get along.  They're always bickering at each other --- I know that can be a form of flirting, but their barbs are the sort that can really dig in and fester.  And the script is stupid, too; well, either it's stupid, or the 70s were...I can believe either.  Oliver gets the news that Jennifer is dying from her doctor.  You would think doctor-patient confidentiality would prevent the doc from telling this terrible news to anyone but Jennifer.  Apparently not.  And when Jennifer finds out, she's not upset.  Well, she's upset about dying, but not about that breach of trust.  Maybe that's just proper perspective.  Whatever.  I don't know, maybe it bothers me that the script expects us to sympathize with a petulant, insufferable hyper-elite heir and his sarcastic (but not funny at all) lover.  I'm not trying to be classist, mind you, but I think the main characters in a love story should be...well, lovable.

I didn't even like the acting or direction in this movie.  I thought Ryan O'Neal did a great wounded puppy imitation, but as far as human emotions went, I wasn't impressed.  I will give him credit, though, that he can make his lower lip quiver, on the verge of tears, quite well.  Ali MacGraw (as you might have inferred) didn't impress me as the sarcastic soon-to-be-dead-girl.  The most astounding aspect of her performance is that she doesn't ever appear to be sick, even a little.  I've seen prom dates that looked worse than her on her death bed.  It's not like she died from an arrow to the head; she had a terminal illness, probably a form of cancer, and it bothers me that the filmmakers felt the need for her to be beautiful up to her last breath.  Because you only love what appears to be pretty, people.  Let that be a lesson.  With such a dislike for the acting in this movie, I of course am not a fan of the direction.  As far as storytelling goes, Arthur Hiller did a pretty good job, but enjoying this movie absolutely hinges on liking the characters, and I couldn't do it.  I will give credit where it's due and say that O'Neal and MacGraw had pretty good chemistry, even if I don't see any reason for their characters to have spoken to each other after the first scene.  On a side note, this is Tommy Lee Jones' first film role, in which he delivers maybe two lines.  So at least something good came out of it.

Love Story is famous for the line "Love means never having to say you're sorry."  It is used twice.  The first time is after Oliver and Jennifer have a big fight; immediately regretting whatever he said or did, Ollie runs around town, trying to find her and eventually finds her on their front stoop.  There, mouth-breathing, tear-stained, and snot-coated, Jennifer tells Oliver the line and everything is better.  Later, Oliver uses it as a brush off with his father.  Classy.  Call me a romantic, but I don't think love has anything to do with apologizing when you do it right.  And shouldn't a movie called "Love Story" do it right?

I cannot believe that this movie was nominated for so many (seven!!!) Oscars.  This is the worst film I have ever seen that was nominated for an Oscar; to be fair, I haven't seen Norbit.  This makes Nicholas Sparks look like a well-balanced writer of action, adventure, comedy and drama by comparison.  I hate Sparks because he manipulates emotions, but this was just inept and artificial in every way.  Ugh.  Just thinking about this movie in detail is testing my gag reflex.  The amazing part (to me, at least) is that this movie only made me angry.  I'm a soft touch, generally, when it comes to movies that pull on the ol' heartstrings.  I have heard this movie called a four- or five-hankie tear-jerker, but all it got out of me was a dead stare, with rage slowly bubbling up underneath.  The only thing keeping this movie from zero stars is the fact that the story was told in a comprehensible fashion.  Love Story, I hate you.


  1. Did Tommy Lee Jones actually look young or was he weathered as ever?

  2. His face didn't have the folds and creases that have defined Jones for the last thirty years, but considering that he was only 23 when this was filmed and he looked about 35, perhaps he should have treated his face like Little Leaguers treat their mitts: with Kneads Foot Oil.

  3. I have to agree with you 100% on this one Brian. I got this movie for Christmas a couple of years ago, and was excited because I had never seen it, and it had been nominated for all of those awards. I spent a cold winter afternoon watching it, expecting a sappy tearjerker that I would love, but instead my reaction was almost exactly the same as yours. When it was over I was disappointed that I had just wasted that last hour and a half of my life watching that movie.