On the same February weekend that Jose Padilha's buzzed-about remake of RoboCop arrived in theaters, Universal released Endless Love, a teen romantic drama based on the apparently classic 1979 novel by Scott Spencer, previously adapted in 1981 by director Franco Zeffirelli. RoboCop may have gotten more attention, but having seen both, Endless Love is actually the better of the two pictures. Shana Feste's script includes a number of teen romance drama cliches, yet she and her strong cast (led by reliable character actor Bruce Greenwood) make them palatable and even enjoyable by directing their focus toward the characters and their motivations, allowing the film to hold up dramatically for both those who are and are not 17 years old.
David (Alex Pettyfer) is a recent high school graduate with few thoughts about his future. Despite excellent SAT scores, he's perfectly happy to take over the family auto repair shop when his father (Robert Patrick) retires. Since the tenth grade, he's had his eye on the quiet girl, Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde), who comes from a rich family that was rocked when Jade's brother succumbed to cancer. He's never found the right moment to introduce himself, but all that changes overnight when he meets her at a posh country club, helps to organize a fairly normal teen party at her house, and shares a first kiss with her outside, away from the watchful eye of her father, Hugh (Greenwood). At his urging, Jade has spent her entire life focused on getting into a medical school so she can become a doctor like him, but once she and David meet, they're inseparable, caught up in the exhilarating experience of first love. Jade's transformation and dwindling interest in her father's chosen path for her creates tension between himself and David, tension that rises to a boil when David learns more about Hugh than he would like.
Most of the film's cliches are built into the premise. The film's opening narration is pure teen girl fantasy: the beautiful but shy high school graduate with a handsome admirer just waiting to swoop in and change everything right before the responsibilities of college and real life set in. It could feel hacky, but Feste invests the trope with emotional authenticity, capturing the longing angst of teen romance. It may be a cliche, but Feste knows why and how it resonates. Other elements are handled less effectively: David's friend Mace (Dayo Okeniyi) offers lame "ice queen" and class-based reasons Jade will never show an interest in him despite knowing nothing about her, and the character of Jenny (Emma Rigby), an empty stereotype of an ex-girlfriend who continues to insert herself in David's life out of petty jealousy, plays more like a plot device than a person. Later, a party scene pushes the limits of believability in its picturesque sweetness, with couples choreographing elaborate dance routines.
Once David and Jade are officially a couple, however, the film settles into a surprisingly balanced conflict between David and Hugh that has little to do with David being the "bad boy" dating his daughter (although he uses it as an excuse) and more to do with Hugh's frustrations in his own marriage. Although he and his wife Anne (Joely Richardson) can put on a nice dinner for friends and family, their perspectives have already drifted apart. Anne believes Jade needs to have love, to experience happiness and heartbreak, and she is more than receptive to David and his idealism, even writing a letter of recommendation so that he can make good on his SAT scores. Hugh is frustrated not just by the control he loses over Jade with David around, but by the lack of control he feels in his own relationship. Greenwood is perfect casting, easily able to go from fatherly encouragement to cold intimidation on the turn of a dime, and Richardson is no slouch either. Feste not only provides her with character beats that make Anne feel three-dimensional, but agency to call Hugh out on his short-sightedness. Pettyfer and Wilde are also charming in the leads, with Pettyfer projecting some personality beyond his good looks, and Wilde investing the "audience surrogate" role with dramatic energy, putting choice behind plot developments where many would have disappeared into the wallpaper. Even Patrick gets some strong dramatic moments, such as a scene with Greenwood that other similar movies probably wouldn't have bothered with, choosing solely to focus on romance.
As the film ramps up into theatrics, the chances of the film jumping the rails keeps increasing, but Feste manages the fireworks nicely, even subverting a few cliches to make up for the ones that made it in (a moment with Jenny is waved away in a second through -- gasp! -- characters communicating!). Feste's direction isn't flashy, but the film is generally handsomely photographed, offering a little more visual nuance than the average brightly-lit, atmosphere-free budget studio pictures. Spencer was very unhappy with the adaptation of his book, both in 1981 and even more so in 2014. As I'm unfamiliar with both the novel and the previous film, I'm not at liberty to talk about fidelity to the source material, but regardless of its qualities as an adaptation, Endless Love has some surprisingly intelligent qualities as a movie, offering the scope of a story that directly involves but also goes beyond its two young, lovestruck protagonists. It pitches a notion of enduring, endless love that may be more of a romantic fairy tale, but the dramatic core of the film is honest, playing fair with its characters and story.
When printing weekly circulars for stores like Best Buy and Target, studios prepare "sales art" with enlarged titles and fewer details so that all the relevant info is still visible when the cover is reproduced in an ad one inch tall. These days, sales art and regular art are beginning to blend together, with discs like Endless Love leading the way. White block letters, a very large photo of the two leads lying in the grass, and a block tagline to go with it. Hard to believe it was someone's job to add two lines of text to a random still frame. The Blu-Ray and DVD copy arrive in an eco-friendly Viva Elite case, and the whole package arrives in a glossy embossed slipcover. A sheet offering an UltraViolet Digital Copy code is included inside the case.
The Video and Audio
Aside from one quibble, this 2.39:1 1080p AVC transfer is top-notch. Fine detail is wonderfully crisp throughout, but the appearance of grain allows this digital transfer to have a nice, rich, film-like texture. However, reds appear a little over-saturated, popping unnaturally out of the picture over shadows, and the entire image appears slightly too bright (I had to drop the levels on my set to compensate). No banding or artifacts mar the presentation.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which bursts with the vibrant electronic energy of modern pop music, and with some surprisingly energetic sequences that include some crowded parties, revving car engines, and a major fire sequence, which howls and bellows. Dialogue is rich with environmental details that feel natural and balanced. French and Spanish DTS 5.1, a Descriptive Video Dolby Digital 2.0 track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French and Spanish subtitles are all provided.
Three extras are included, all in HD. The first is an extended ending (2:36), which is genuinely just more of the same, taking a bit more time to bask in the atmosphere and details of the film's conclusion with a bit more of Jade's voice-over. This is followed by a lengthy selection of 19 deleted, extended, and alternate scenes (29:45). The first is actually one of the best, a "first love" that would have served as a bookend with Jade's closing narration and is far superior to the cliched replacement voice-over that opens the finished film. Another includes a "morning after" detail that transforms some of Hugh's hostility, and two others change the nature of a pivotal dramatic moment to shift more of the fault onto David. The bulk of the remaining scenes are far less interesting, mainly connective tissue that was rightfully determined unnecessary during the editing process -- one is as simple as a different style of editing for the montage that is still in the film.
The disc rounds out with a fairly generic making-of featurette (17:59) that offers the usual round of cast and crew talking heads from the set, mixed in with basic B-roll and clips from the finished film. Take a drink every time someone says "first love" and you'll be dead before the featurette is over.
Random trailers download from the internet when the disc is placed in the player. No theatrical trailer for Endless Love is included.
Color me surprised. Endless Love didn't set the box office on fire, and critics were even harsher to it, perhaps because it strays further from the book the film is based on. Personally, I felt there was more going on here than the usual teen tragedies. It may not be deep, and it steps in some potholes, but it's thoughtful and reasoned when it comes to the people involved, which, along with the performances, earns it a recommendation.
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