I have not read Scott Spencer’s novel Endless Love, nor seen the 1981 film version starring Brooke Shields. From what I gather, the 2014 film based on the novel and/or any lingering affection for any movie that made any money in the eighties doesn’t have much to do with either of its predecessors. Endless Love ’14 may be one of those movies that paradoxically tries to capitalize on a brand name while relying on most of its audience to not recognize it.
To that audience, Endless Love is just a teen romance: less piously manipulative than a Nicholas Sparks property, but soapier than an indie picture like The Spectacular Now. The movie opens with Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) graduating from high school while her classmate David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) looks on, admiringly. Jade and David don’t really know each other; David has a lot of friends, while Jade keeps to herself and her well-off family as she prepares for her pre-med program at Brown University (beginning, as so many movie undergraduate programs do, mere weeks after graduation). But they share a moment, which blossoms into instant attraction, bringing Jade out of her shell just in time for bathing suit and thin-summerdress season, and to give her doubts about her future plans.
In this version, then, Endless Love is basically the plot of Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (as well as any number of other teen romances), minus a sense of humor: the bookish, socially withdrawn girl striking sparks with a charismatic boy whose future is less certain. Here each teenager has a character-actor father — Bruce Greenwood for Jade; Robert Patrick for David — and some family-related trauma in their past. For Jade, a whirlwind romance with David isn’t just her first love; it’s her first time experiencing heedless joy as an adult. Their intoxication with each other bothers Jade’s dad, though their relationship only seems truly alarming if you notice that, attractive as they both are, they don’t have much to say to one another.
This animal attraction does not explain ads that makes Endless Love look like more of an obsessive thriller — plot summaries of the book and previous film, though, offer some clarity. The trailers seem designed to hew closer to previous versions of this story than the movie itself, which has been refashioned as a heartfelt if generic romantic drama. Obviously this movie should stand apart from its source material — and its own advertising. But these ancillaries do help explain the newer film’s odd hint of danger; it gives off the faint but consistent sense that any number of obsessive relationships could take hold and perhaps drive the characters off a cliff. Jade and David appear just smitten enough to begin stalking each other; her father appears ready to come after one or both of them with a baseball bat and/or chastity belt; and Jade’s mother Anne (Joely Richardson) seems unusually warm towards David, as, for that matter, does Jade’s brother Keith (Rhys Wakefield).
But even as the movie descends into melodrama in its second half, any sublimated urges to go further fail to break through the surface. Despite the ad campaign’s collection of most of the movie’s Abercrombie-ish sexual imagery and a tagline (“say goodbye to innocence”) vaguely suggesting that after sex comes obsession, stalking, and housefires, the movie itself is actually quite sex-positive for this type of thing, treating the loss of Jade’s virginity as intense but basically healthy. The movie also captures images of the young couple in reverie, like a shot of Jade and David clenching each other in the back of a moving pick-up truck, that are vividly romantic. For a little while, the movie’s slightness gives it an appealing glow.
But the characters, while likable, are less vivid, and their sincerity can’t compensate for the movie’s worn out second half, when the lovers must separate, but maybe reunite, but maybe separate again, et cetera, et cetera. Director/cowriter Shana Feste also made Country Strong, a movie with too much melodrama and not enough human dimension. Endless Love could use more of both: characters who have inner life beyond the romance in front of them, or a story willing to take us to crazier places.