1970

Film #295: Love Story (1970)

Film titles are obviously used to draw people in by either enticing them with a character’s name or intriguing them with a piece of dialogue taken from the film. But, in the case of the next nominee on the list, the film is nothing more than a description of the plot itself.

Love Story tells the tale of Oliver Barrett IV and Jenny Cavalleri who meet whilst they are both students at Harvard. Oliver is initially presented as a privileged jock who plays in the university’s hockey team and whose father wants him to attend law school. Meanwhile, quick-witted Jenny is a musical maestro but is from a much poorer background and is the daughter of a widower baker. After several spats, Jenny and Oliver fall in love and the pair decides to get married, primarily to spite his parents. Oliver is eventually accepted to law school but is cut off by his father after he marries Jenny against his wishes. Realising that she needs to support her new husband, Jenny begins teaching and puts off her future until he can get a job. Screenwriter Erich Seagal expertly ties in big story points with more well-observed banter between the couple as they continue their life together. As somebody who was already aware of the way the film pans out, the big reveal in the final act didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was how quickly the romance finally ended between the pair and I have to say that I wasn’t particularly moved by Jenny and Oliver’s final scene together. In fact I was more taken by the scene between Oliver and his father as the latter attempts to reconcile with the former. The ambiguous nature of the way this relationship ends provides an interesting conclusion to an otherwise fairly predictable film.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being predictable, indeed I found myself rather enjoying Love Story even though it’s fairly cheesy by today’s standards. I think one of the problems watching these films retrospectively is that I’m influenced by all of the films that I’ve already seen which in some way take their inspiration from Love Story. I do feel that if I’d watched the film at the time I’d probably have enjoyed it more and been a lot less cynical about its plot. At just over ninety minutes, I found the film to be incredibly well-paced and we didn’t have to wait too long until Oliver and Jenny fell in love. For the majority of the film, Seagal’s dialogue feels genuine as he combines the couple’s early banter with some real emotional clout in the later scenes. Arthur Hiller’s direction really focused on the two central characters and he really tried hard for us to get to know them and really care about their ultimate destinies. Hiller was lucky with the fact that leads Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal had winning chemistry and made a believable couple from the minute their characters laid their eyes on each other. Both MacGraw and O’Neal were nominated for acting awards and I feel this is more than deserved because without them the film would fall apart. Despite seven nominations Love Story only picked up one Oscar with Francis Lai winning for his memorable score which was highlighted by the movie’s famous theme. I do feel that your enjoyment of Love Story hinges on whether or not you’re willing to buy into the romance at the heart of the film. Though I didn’t whole-heartedly become immersed in Oliver and Jenny’s relationship, I loved the characters so much that I was swept up in their whirlwind romance. Overall, Love Story proved that sometimes a simple title is best and, in terms of this film, it really reflected the ultimate tone of the narrative.

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