by Sam Fragoso
About halfway through Endless Love I made the unnerving revelation that this is, in fact, not a movie about young love, first love, or any kind of love. This is a vile and manipulative film about an abnormally malicious father and his unhealthy relationship with his daughter. That it is being sold as the next The Notebook is unsurprising, as director/co-writer Shana Feste’s trite and sappy sophomore effort contains the necessary components to dupe unassuming customers.
The two attractive and compatible teenagers who fall for each other at first sight, Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) and David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer); the disapproving father (Bruce Greenwood) and the pragmatic mother (Joely Richardson); the rebellious brother (Rhys Wakefield) who constantly disappoints the patriarch of the family; and the limbo-like summer between high school graduation and college where one’s future appears to be infinite.
All the necessary pieces for a predictable, but sweet love story are in place. Jade is an exquisite beauty – shy and ambitious – with plans to attend Brown and study pre-med (like her father) in the fall. Conversely David (although smart enough to receive a 2020 on his SAT) has no collegiate aspirations, instead deciding to work at his father’s car shop. The two young lovers soon begin a courtship of sorts. They run and scream and dance in the summer wind, laughing and making love as they please. Happiness and excitement is in air as the two embark on the type of whimsical summer most teenagers’ can only dreams of.
This story takes a sour turn after the sunny opening 25-minutes.
Feste and co-writer Joshua Safran soon decide that Endless Love need not be a romantic film, but a conniving and contrived one. From the get go, Jade’s father Hugh – scarred by the death of his oldest son for years ago – has his qualms with her entangling herself in David. His complaints are reasonable: she’ll be leaving in two weeks for an internship, why bother investing herself in someone so soon before she has to pack up and leave? Moreover Jade has never been romantically involved with anyone prior to David – and so Hugh’s reservations about the whole relationship are natural. Plus, what good father is not at least a little concerned about the entrance of another man in his daughter’s life?
But then the film decides to eschew naturalism and honesty, diluting the situation until it no longer bares any resemblance to reality. Hugh descends from a concerned parent to a nefarious one, hiring a private detective to look into David’s past while constantly being condescending for no legitimate reason. In an attempt to paint this character as some sort of villain, Hugh not only pathologically lies and yells at his family, but succumbs to infidelity. If Feste and Safran’s goal was to make Hugh a robotically diabolic husband and father with no signs of humanity, than they succeeded.
Also baffling is Jade’s turn from virginal high schooler to sexual hedonist. It’s natural for any teenager to be curious in something many of her fellow classmates have already dabbled in, but the malleability of this character lacks any sort of verisimilitude. One-minute an introverted, taciturn daddy’s daughter, the next a borderline nymphomaniac who disrespects her parents, investing her entire self into a boy she just met.
Of course the two run into some complications, as all relationships do. Their love, however, is not hindered by the standard problems of monogamy (geography, intimacy, compatibility, etc), but class. The Butterfields exist in the bourgeois, Elliot’s the proletariat. This non-issue is, like all elements of the film, manufactured to create tension where there is none. Think “Romeo & Juliet” but written by someone who read Shakespeare’s opus briskly and carelessly.
Although Pettyfer and Wilde are two perfectly sculpted individuals, it’s astonishing just how un-erotic their moments of sexual intimacy are. Whether they’re going at it in the rain or next to a fireplace, lovemaking has seldom appeared so artificial in the movies. Where The Spectacular Now managed to succeed in showing two teenagers emotionally connecting through intercourse (in all its idiosyncratic and sometimes awkward glory), Endless Love agonizingly fails.
With some careful economic planning Endless Love has been conveniently released by Universal Studios on Valentine’s Day. This should come to no surprise as Hollywood knows full well that hundreds of thousands of budding (and perhaps fledgling) couples will flock to the theater today hoping to swoon their respective lovers with a romantic film that promises true, unadulterated love. On occasion we have received such triumphant efforts (The Apartment, Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that possess that wonderful, ineffable ability to reaffirm our faith in the immeasurable power of love. Such romantic endeavors are in high demand and in short supply these days, and Endless Love certainly doesn’t change the status quo.
Falling in and out of love is a cyclical cycle most of us continue (and will continue) to endure throughout our lifetime. I mention this because finding and maintaining a romance is an arduous undertaking – one that doesn’t need to be exacerbated by watching a shallow, regressive, and repulsive movie like Endless Love. This is not a film about love, and all the joy, pain and heartbreak that comes along with it; but it sure does feel endless.
The Upside: Attractive bodies
The Downside: An unromantic, gutless, and heartless enterprise
On the Side: Dayo Okenyi (The Spectacular Now and The Hunger Games) receives a nice little supporting role as David’s charming and jocose friend.