Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 26, 2021)
Based on Erich Segal’s work, 1970’s Love Story became a massive smash. Indeed, with a take of $106 million, it lands in 41st place on box office charts adjusted for inflation.
Harvard law student Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal) comes from a background of wealth and privilege. Radcliffe student Jenny Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw) grew up in a working class family.
After they meet at a library, they butt heads but nonetheless they quickly fall in love and plan to marry. However, a slew of obstacles threaten to derail their relationship.
Going into this early 2021 screening of Story, it stood as the highest-grossing movie I’d never seen – well, highest-grossing on that adjusted for inflation list I mentioned. I was only three when it hit screens, and though I knew of it later in life, I never felt the urge to view it.
Love Story wasn’t the original “chick flick”, but it stands as arguably the ultimate expression of that genre. We get the standard “meet cute” and follow two attractive people through passion and tragedy, the staples of this sort of film.
Obviously a lot of people liked Love Story, and I suspect it still maintains a good audience. However, I can’t explain why, as the movie becomes nothing more than trite melodrama.
Granted, I say that with more than 50 years hindsight. As noted, I was a toddler when Love Story made it to theaters, so I can’t judge how it blended with other fare from the period.
That said, tragic romances go back millennia, so the theme itself brings nothing new. The question becomes whether or not Love Story can do something special with the material.
Nope. The movie hits on every cliché in the book and never turns into anything even vaguely interesting.
Should I consider it a spoiler that I alluded to “tragedy” a couple paragraphs back? No – the movie’s first scene relates impending doom, so the rest of the tale becomes a march toward the inevitable.
I don’t get the rationale for this telegraphed plot point – to create tension? I guess so – I guess Segal and the filmmakers figured the Jenny/Oliver romance would feel more dramatic if we knew it wouldn’t last.
But this doesn’t happen. The narrative follows a slow, tedious path with the expected tests of the lead couple’s love and not much more, all as we wait for tragedy to occur.
Again: maybe this felt fresher in 1970. I find that tough to imagine, but the featurette included on the disc claims “romance at the movies had come and gone”, so perhaps it did do something different for its era.
It still seems difficult to swallow that, as everything about the flick comes across as so stale and predictable. We get cardboard characters and trite story choices from start to finish.
MacGraw and O’Neal make an attractive couple, but neither lights up the screen with acting talent. They seem broad and over the top as they create annoying characters.
Segal’s script does them no favors. Packed with cheap melodrama and inane lines, even the greatest actors couldn’t redeem this material.
Audiences ate up Love Story 50 years ago, but its appeal escapes me. The movie becomes a tiresome piece of cheese.