by Philip Price
“Endless Love” is not a great movie, but it does know exactly what type of movie it is and it embraces that whole-heartily. There isn't really a sense of real-world expectations (other than going off to college of course) and there is never any real feeling of impending doom despite the film’s attempts to continue to raise the stakes and put its characters in danger. If you saw the original 1981 film starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt you probably expected some of those stakes to pay off in different ways than this new version decides to take the facets of what is still essentially the same story. Surprisingly though, this new version feels very much like its own movie, like its own world and though it may be an imaginary world for many of us the film is able to deliver a convincing love story while never actually paying attention to the development of that core relationship. We understand the circumstances surrounding our two young lovers (portrayed by Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde) and we see the doomed nature of their obsession early on and the mountain of obstacles facing them, but thanks to the charming performances from both of these leads we are able to somehow root for these young lovers that don't necessarily give us any reason to do so as far as why their relationship is so special, but because of little more than their dedication to one another and the films unapologetically optimistic view of love we go from believing this is nothing more than a summer fling (as most of the adults here do) to buying into these kids truly having a genuine affection for one another that could sustain itself for longer than the flutter in time youth is. Still, to enjoy even a moment of this updated tale of forbidden love you have to be willing to accept the movie on its own, melodramatic terms. Everything here is amplified from the posh superiority of some of the inhabitants of this lakeside town to the circumstances that some of our characters just happen to wander into. So, as long as you can take these characters and their heightened emotions and accept them as the conditions of the film you might find yourself enjoying this, if not, you'll alternate between laughing and cringing.
We are welcomed to the world of country clubs and privileged youngsters where Jade (Wilde) and resides at with her surgeon father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), and author mother, Anne (Joely Richardson), where summer dresses are aplenty and boat shoes and khakis are in every male's closet. We are introduced to Jade as the quiet, bookworm of a young woman who spent her high school years mourning the loss of her oldest brother and remaining by her parents side for what comes to be seen more of their fear for allowing their daughter out into the world rather than that of her choice, but nonetheless her prime years of youth has been unfairly taken from her and she seems intent to make up for lost time when she sets her eyes on David (Pettyfer) as he works as a valet at said country club. The tension is light between the two as they go through the motions of their own little meet-cute while Jade discusses the possibility of throwing a party that might allow her to make up for that lost time, a party where David will solidify his kindness that moves he and Jade's relationship from sweetly awkward courtship to hot and heavy in an instant. From this initial moment on they are and expect everyone else to accept that they are inseparable. The trouble comes not from Anne who seems fascinated by the amount of affection her daughter and David have for one another or that of Jade's older brother Keith (Rhys Wakefield) who is turned from James Spader's ugly original brother to that of a jaded middle child that never saw the adoration given to his older brother nor the cherished protection his parents gave Jade. He knows it's not his fault, but he can't stand his parents for excluding him from their love and their approval. Thus the reason he is nothing if not thrilled to see his younger sister going against their parents’ grain whether it is solely because of David's presence or not. David though, is the guy from the wrong side of the tracks, the one that will never be good enough for Hugh's pre-med bound daughter which will do nothing short of create more problems and more drama as Jade rebels against her father’s wishes and Hugh blames David for these changes.
It should be said up front that I knew what I was getting myself into when walking into “Endless Love.” I'd seen the original and not thought much of it, slightly odd if nothing at all and a love story that was unconvincing and had no foundation. I was happy to see that writer/director Shana Feste was up for the idea of re-constructing the story elements and at least making them as grounded as possible while still playing up the Romeo & Juliet aspects of the story. While the original (and I have not read the original source material by Scott Spencer) dropped us into the already simmering relationship of David and Jade this new film builds it up as something David has been contemplating his entire high school career while the thought that a boy might even be interested in her is something that exhilarates the sheltered Jade. The problem with this is that the film takes no time to actually develop these characters or why their relationship is what they refer to as destiny. There are no deep conversations, no insight about one another that makes for one of them to be fascinated by or even relate to. They are teenagers, fresh out of high school, who in their small worlds would seemingly have nothing in common. Initially David and Jade expect to only have a few days together as Jade is set to leave for Brown University to participate in an internship that will only ease her course through medical school. With this I thought it might prove the more logical opportunity for the characters to prove themselves as worthy of the type of relationship they wished to embark on while giving them plenty of time to make memories that would go down as one of their better summers. Instead, all logic is thrown out of the window with these two as David, ignorant to the ways impressing fathers work, asks Jade to stay and not leave him, but to allow him to spend every day for the rest of the summer with him. Jade, who may or may not just be easily influenced is convinced of David's love (and it is genuine, I'll give Pettyfer that) and warrants the anger of her father, but while making out with David is a hobby she clearly enjoys (they do this constantly rather than, you know, build a relationship) it isn't one that will move the audience closer to believing that her first love is as distinguished as we are expected to.
Both Wilde and Pettyfer are attractive young actors who have more than enough reason to be attracted to one another and while we believe in their wanting to be together we don't really ever see any chemistry. There is a scene, early on in the film where they are asked to choreograph a dance as part of a party game and in this moment, this brief glimpse into what a conversation sounds like between them there are moments, reactions, inflections even that make it hard to repress a smile because they are recognizable in their universality of those first moments with a person you clearly have feelings for, but are scared to act on fully. It provides a glimpse of the relationship that could have been developed to justify what the title implies, but the film thinks this is more than enough and so the actors are given little to do from this point other than look lovingly at one another, kiss and then occasionally react to the events occurring around them that are present to create a compelling plot, but simply ends up all feeling rather uninteresting when compared with the pure hatred Hugh possesses towards the entire situation while coming off as nothing more than a big wet blanket to the teenagers in the audience that will see this as nothing more than parents trying to suck all the fun out of their lives because they aren't as happy and care free as they are now. No, it is clear Hugh is neither happy nor care free. He has lost a child, he doesn't want to lose another, he feels disconnected from his wife and may or may not be acting on such impulses (an unnecessary plot point that is brought up and then dropped, never to be heard from again). He doesn't want to see his daughter suffer any kind of pain, yet the wedge he has decided to drive between Jade and David does nothing but. As Hugh, Greenwood is a class act and pulls out all the stops for this villainous performance and while it only may serve as further proof I am getting older (and maybe more mature) it was his performance that I had the most fun with here. Richardson, on the other hand, isn't asked to take things as far as Shirley Knight was in the original, but her depressed/weirdly fascinated mother act is nothing if not off-putting and serves as more reason while the adult crowd will side with Hugh and anyone under the age of 21 will be trying to justify the points the movie makes. Hugh's actions are naturally amplified for the purpose of drama and there are some interesting thoughts about how far is too far when parenting, but overall “Endless Love” is more condescending to its audience than it is inspiring, treating these fools blinded by love with the constant promise of a honeymoon and not really asking themselves what it will take to keep the spark alive.