One of the essential American films of 2016.
"Endless Love" isn't so much a remake of the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli film as it is an extended ad for the idyllic Abercrombie & Fitch lifestyle.
This is supposed to be a film about the throes of teenage first love—a love you would go to jail for, set a house on fire for, a love that requires a restraining order—but it's awfully tasteful and emotionally detached in its blissed-out depiction of beautiful young people cavorting in the sunlight.
Toned, tanned David and Jade (Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde, both former models) frolic in a meadow, leap off a dock in slow motion and splash in a lake, all to the blare of alt rock music to signal to us how we should react to these images. They make romantic love on the carpet by the fireplace light (but this time there's no creepy mom watching them from the shadows). Even their vaguely grungy moments—kissing in the back of a beat-up pickup truck or in the hot summer rain—feel impeccably art designed.
In short, director and co-writer Shana Feste has remade "Endless Love" but she's taken out all the crazy. Not that the original was all that great to begin with; a six-time Razzie Award nominee, it was screechy, melodramatic and over-acted, with an awkwardly flat lead performance from Brooke Shields. But at least it had passion. Pettyfer and Wilde look lovely together—although they're both in their mid-20s playing 17-year-olds, and it shows—and they do enjoy some real chemistry throughout their flirtatious, falling-in-love stage. But the sense that something vital is at stake is woefully lacking.
Some of the basic details and visual touchstones are in place, but Feste ("Country Strong") and co-writer Joshua Safran have reconfigured this story entirely—and, notably, omitted the Oscar-nominated Lionel Richie-Diana Ross theme song which was such a ubiquitous hit on radios and prom dance floors alike. (Also missing this time around: the small role of the wild-eyed arsonist played by a young Tom Cruise in mercilessly short Daisy Dukes.)
Now, instead of an age difference, there's a class difference. David is a smart, decent, blue-collar guy who's happy to go into business with his father (Robert Patrick) as a mechanic rather than apply to college. Jade is a wealthy, sheltered and studious girl with plans to attend Brown University in the fall and become a cardiologist like her father (Bruce Greenwood).
The night of their high school graduation, David and Jade meet cute at the swanky restaurant where David works as a valet alongside his wisecracking best friend (a likable Dayo Okeniyi). Sparks fly instantly and the two become inseparable for the rest of the summer, to the vocal disapproval of Jade's snobbish dad. His overprotectiveness also stems from his continued grief over the loss of Jade's superstar older brother a few years back.
But the rest of the family welcomes David in; Jade's mother (Joely Richardson) and older brother (Rhys Wakefield) both experience much-needed emotional awakenings at the sight of Jade reveling in her first love. As David insinuates himself further with these folks—in a sweet and hunky way, rather than a dark and stalky way—something clearly has to give.
Just as the tension between father and suitor should be increasing, though, Feste goes through the motions en route to her happy ending. Strong, veteran character actors like Greenwood, Patrick and Richardson certainly elevate this predictable, lightweight material, but they can only do so much.
Watching "Endless Love," you long for it to be riskier, edgier, or at least more reflective of actual teenage experiences and emotions. Even the partying feels false, with freshly scrubbed kids talking about getting drunk and high without actually taking part in such activities or indicating their eventual effects. (Ostensibly, this creative decision was intended to secure a PG-13 rating.)
Feste's sanitized version seems like it's aimed not at high-school kids but rather at those who are even younger: girls who can leave the theater and peruse the mall for just the right boho-chic clothes to emulate Wilde's fashionably wild look.
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