Nicholas Sparks didn’t write the screenplay for Endless Love. Assuming as much is an easy mistake, though. The bestselling author has cornered the market on likeminded, puppy-dog love letters scribbled on the pink pages of pre-teenage girls’ diaries, and those who devour Sparks’ digestible novels should find plenty to appreciate on screen here.
The rest of us might feel a distinct sense of déjà vu, for assorted reasons. Some will recognize Endless Love from the 1981 version of the story, a steamy take starring Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt and a young Tom Cruise and James Spader. Others might have read the source material, Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel that has sold more than 2 million copies since first being released.
Then there’s the simple fact that Endless Love consistently treads down familiar paths that are explored daily by daytime soap operas on each major television network. You have seen this material done countless times before, just by different, equally pretty people.
Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) has supermodel-worthy looks, comes from a wealthy family, but sacrificed her high school years to study, ensuring a fast-track to Brown where she’ll conquer the pre-med program. Because the cool girls in her class won’t talk to her at graduation, though, Jade feels sad, and wonders if she just wasted the best years of her life.
Enter David (Alex Pettyfer), the ridiculously handsome “outcast” who must be a rebel because he works at his father’s garage, has a wisecracking African-American best friend (Dayo Okeniyi), and is hellbent on showing Jade the greatest summer of her life… before she has to shoulder the burden of reality and venture off to the Ivy League college of her choosing.
Say Anything? More like, “We’ve said all of this, over and over again, in earlier films.” You can practically hear John Mahoney’s voice when Bruce Greenwood begins exerting his influence over the film as Jade’s disapproving father, Hugh Butterfield. “Leave her alone, David,” Hugh pleads. “She has a bright future. If you actually love her, you’ll let her go on to med school and live the life she deserves.”
How do you think that scenario is going to play out between these lovers from opposite sides of the tracks?
Endless Love isn’t painful. It’s actually sweet in spots. Writer-director Shana Feste bathes her protagonists in that soft, candlelit glow reserved for the covers of tawdry romance novels, and sets her action to a tender acoustic soundtrack that usually sets the mood at your neighborhood Starbucks. Love finds the right cast members for the stereotypical roles that have to be filled, and the performances are above average. Wilde makes Jade tentative, shy and gawky, in a way pretty girls rarely understand. Pettyfer is borderline charismatic, as if he’s slowly realizing how to be comfortable in front of the camera. And Greenwood gives a legitimately invested turn as the sinister, overprotective father trying to do what’s best for his daughter (even though a subplot about one of Mr. Butterfield’s devious secrets goes absolutely nowhere).
Watching Endless Love, it became clear that every generation deserves its own Say Anything, it’s own Some Kind of Wonderful. These star-crossed-lovers stories have been around for an eternity, and they’ll continue to be told by warm-hearted filmmakers for decades to come. Every generation, however, isn’t lucky enough to have its own John Hughes, or its own Cameron Crowe, and Endless Love lacks the edge and humor that makes the finest of this genre stand apart from the pack. I’m not going to look down on you if you need to see Endless Love this weekend. Just make me a promise that when you come home from it, you’ll also seek out recent movies like The Spectacular Now or 500 Days (of Summer), because they tell the same sort of story, but better.