“There was a girl, a beautiful girl surrounded by people yet utterly alone.” If you can make it through that first line of “Endless Love” without gagging, you’ll probably be able to brave the whole film without major incident. In fact, if you’re a teenage girl, you might even like the movie so much you put a picture of Alex Pettyfer on your wall and buy the (admittedly good) soundtrack. Do kids still do that type of stuff anymore or is it all Snapchat and knockout games? Why does this movie make us feel so old and grumpy?
Where “Endless Love” fails is in its depiction of the titular emotion, and even its title grates since it’s supposed to be between teenagers. Like its real-life counterpart, cinematic love is rarely well-explained, but the connection between Jade (Gabriella Wilde) and David (Pettyfer) is a tenuous one at best, with the only real reason offered for their attraction is that they’re both really good looking. David spent his high school years supposedly obsessing over the quiet, coldly beautiful Jade without ever speaking to her, and when he finally does connect with her on graduation day, there’s so little to both of them that it’s tough to see why they gravitate toward one another (other than their equal lacks of depth). He “borrows” a car in his job as a valet, and she’s instantly smitten by his bravado and charming text messages.
But “Endless Love” doesn’t make it easy for the couple to be together: Jade is a Butterfield, part of the Atlanta elite, and her father (Bruce Greenwood) doesn’t want her dating the son of a mechanic (Robert Patrick) with a shady past. She’s going to be pre-med at Brown, while David didn’t even apply to college. Society tells them they shouldn’t be together, but they’re rebellious teenagers, and they want to break the rules. While Jade’s mother (Joely Richardson) praises David for bringing about her daughter’s, umm, “awakening," her father still wants them kept apart so Jade can follow in his footsteps as a cardiologist. David does all he can to stay in Jade’s life, while her father and circumstances attempt to separate them.
The actors playing the parents (Greenwood, Richardson, and Patrick) are solidly cast and bring some maturity to the film. While we didn’t swoon over Pettyfer, we can also recognize that we aren’t the target audience and can intellectually understand his appeal. As Jade, Wilde has her biggest role to date, and she ably fills Brooke Shields’ shoes from the first film with a similar beauty and (short-lived) innocence. But more importantly than how they work on their own, Pettyfer and Wilde are good together and are capable of communicating to the audience their desire for one another.
The stars are able to move beyond the script from director Shana Feste (“Country Strong”) and her co-writer Josh Safran (“Gossip Girl” and “Smash”). It doesn’t elicit any groans, but there were more than a few eye rolls from our row. It’s not unbearably cheesy, though it doesn't offer any insight into the reasons Pettyfer and Wilde's characters are so desperate to be together. Coupled with the direction, the script seems to hint at something much darker just about to happen throughout the film, but it never comes to fruition. The shooting from director of photography Andrew Dunn is largely unremarkable, except for when it’s off-putting, most notable in a threatening scene with Greenwood.
“Endless Love” does succeed with a good soundtrack with songs from artists like Tegan and Sara, The Bird and the Bee, Cults and The Tallest Man on Earth. We appreciate that music supervisor Randall Poster is doing his typically solid work here with a variety of indie artists, with nothing approaching the standard, saccharine crap you’d expect from a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. That said, none of it approaches the sublime usage of Skylar Grey’s haunting cover of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” in the trailer.
The adaptation takes a gentler approach than both Scott Spencer’s original novel and the 1981 film, particularly when it comes to David’s character. He’s no longer an obsessive arsonist who waxes romantic about his 15-year-old love’s period, as he was in the previous incarnations of the story. Both he and Jade are aged up a bit here, making certain elements less potentially troubling to the audience. The film adequately captures the heady feelings of first love, where your emotions aren’t grounded in reality or logic and you’ll do anything to be with that perfect person. It’s a movie-length cliché about the type of love that explains why drugstores are stocked with cheap, forgettable Valentine’s Day gifts bought by teenagers and the immature at heart. [C]