If love really meant never having to say you’re sorry, I’d have enough time on my hands to get a PHD.
Yes, the tagline for director Arthur Hiller’s “Love Story” is unforgivably stupid, no question. Almost as bad is Ali McGraw’s performance as the gorgeous but doomed Jennifer. My wife hates this film and MacGraw’s performance so much that she only agreed to screen the Blu-ray with me so that she could delight in Jennifer’s cancerous demise. My wife’s tagline for the film is, “Marrying the studio head means never having to take an acting class.”
So what was it about this fairly mediocre 1970 tear-jerker that made it, not only the highest-grossing film of the year, but also the 6th highest grossing film of all time — the “Titanic” of its day?
Believe it or not, I saw this “chick flick” classic for the first time ever when the Blu-ray screener arrived last week, and thankfully I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit that the story got to me. You can’t disagree with the film’s critics and their many criticisms, but in the end I’m not completely ashamed to admit that Jennifer’s death choked me up and that I found the third act a little gut-wrenching as that reality became increasingly inevitable.
For everything the story does wrong, it does two key things so right that those moments help to overcome the rest. When, in the middle of a perfect day, Jennifer tells her husband, Oliver (Ryan O’Neal), that she has to go to the hospital, it’s a real kick to the gut. Laugh all you want, but just thinking about it gets to me. And then there’s how we learn that she’s died. (No spoiler warning necessary. We’re told Jennifer will die in the opening scene.)
Those were the exact right moments for the story to avoid melodrama and those moments all but redeem the entire production. “Love Story” isn’t a great film, but it’s a good one that manipulates you just enough that it stays with you for a little while, and that’s a pretty rare accomplishment. There’s also something charming about Jennifer that grows on you over time. At first she’s haughty and obnoxious, but there was something that eventually won me over. By the time she and Oliver are sitting alone in the dark in that chair together coming to terms with the news, the story owned me. MacGraw is no actress, but she has an undeniable quality that helps to overcome that.
Another of the movie’s saving graces is that most of the production was filmed on-location, which looks marvelous in high-definition. The disc also offers feature-length commentary from the director as well as an above-average behind-the-scenes documentary.
You know what really does mean never having to say you’re sorry? Making a cheesy tearkerker that pushed my buttons.
“Love Story” hits shelves Feb. 7 and is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.