Review: “Endless Love” is ludicrously enjoyable

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I reviewed the frothy remake of “Endless Love” for the Buffalo News. Here is my two-star review. Terrible? Sure. But I had a blast.

“Endless Love” is the most threatening title since “The Neverending Story.” Make no mistake, though: It does end. It ends badly, but it does end.

That is perhaps a bit harsh on a film that can accurately be categorized as ludicrously enjoyable. It is worth noting that the screening audience had a wonderful time, and I often did, as well. But it is not a good movie – just a charmingly daft heart-shaped doughnut with sprinkles on the outside and an empty hole in the center.

It is the second adaptation of Scott Spencer’s well-regarded, hugely successful novel. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 film starring Brooke Shields is remembered mostly for the theme song by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. (This one, incidentally, ups the ante with a soundtrack that includes Tegan and Sara and the National’s Matt Berninger.)

Appropriately, it swoons into theaters on Valentine’s Day, and hits all of the de rigueur teen romance notes.

There is the wealthy wallflower Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde), a lovely, sweet-natured graduating high school senior who still is mourning the death of her beloved brother. She lives under the watchful eye of her overprotective father (Bruce Greenwood) and slightly shaky mother (Joely Richardson).

Only in the movies would a girl as attractive as Wilde, a former Burberry and Lacoste model, be unpopular. And perhaps only in the movies would a hulking, broad-shouldered teddy bear like David (Alex Pettyfer) lack the nerve to talk to her.

Alas, they finally do speak, and romance blossoms. Soon, Jade is considering forgoing a prestigious internship, sneaking David into her family’s gated mansion, and, of course, losing her virginity in sensual soft-focus – in front of a roaring fire, no less. (There is no room for first-timer awkwardness in the world of “Endless Love.”)

The first 45 minutes or so are relatively grounded. Sure, there are several montages in which the happy couple cavorts in laughably advertisement-esque joy – Running through sprinklers! Sharing a bicycle! More sprinklers! – but it’s all rather sweet, and often funny, especially when the scene-stealing Dayo Okeniyi appears as David’s buddy Mace.

But then things get serious. And Greenwood’s dad glowers. And Pettyfer pouts. And Wilde looks sad. And there is an arrest. And an unearthed crime report. And car accidents, and fires, and enough wildly overwrought drama to make even a British soap-opera aficionado beg for mercy.

It is all way, way too much, yet that is part of the fun of a bad movie. The more silly it gets, the more pleasurable it becomes.

Director Shana Feste has a rather absurd filmography, having previously helmed a drippy Carey Mulligan-Pierce Brosnan drama called “The Greatest” and the dippy Gwyneth-goes-country flop “Country Strong.” All three of her films feature strong supporting casts, and “Endless Love” is no exception.

Greenwood does what he can with the one-note, Disapproving Dad role (it is perhaps a sign of my advancing age that I found him the most rational character in the film), while Robert Patrick makes the most of a rare good-guy part.

As for the stars, it would be difficult to conjure up a prettier couple than Pettyfer and Wilde, and they give modest, likable performances. But there is nothing remotely involving about either character, really. They are beautiful, and blonde, and that is all. (Alternate title idea: “Blond on Blonde.”)

For a far, far better teen romance in which the leads are pleasantly offbeat, the story avoids cliché, and the tone avoids pomposity, seek out last year’s Sundance Fest fave “The Spectacular Now.” The couple in “Spectacular,” played by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, have a relationship that feels rounded, and real, and suitably novice.

 

If you instead desire something unchallenging and silly, “Endless Love” is ready for your Valentine’s dollars. Enjoyable? Yes. Spectacular? No.

The North Park’s triumphant return

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This Friday is an important day in recent Buffalo film history — that’s no exaggeration — as Hertel Avenue’s glorious North Park Theatre reopens. Here is a nice Buffalo News story on the theater.

The first film at the renovated theater is the French Film Girl on a Bicycle, followed one week later by Better Living Through Chemistry, then Catherine Deneuve in On My Way (March 21), and then Berlin film-fest winner Child’s Pose (March 28).

This unique, eclectic lineup gives us a good idea what to expect, I think, and as a devoted local cinemagoer, I could not be more excited.

I will report back once I get a chance to visit. I cannot wait.

(Photo from Buffalo Rising)

2014 so far: Like Father, Like Son and Grand Budapest Hotel strike a chord

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Thanks to TIFF, I was able to get a jump on 2014 releases. And over the last couple months, I’ve continued my crawl. There is much I have been unable to see, but what I have seen has impressed — for the most part.

The two best films I have seen so far this year are Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel — more on that soon — and Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son. The latter just opened in Buffalo last Friday, and it’s a stunner. The Cannes prize-winner takes a rote plot — babies switched at birth — and handles it with subtlety and humor. There are no over-the-top dramatics or wild plot twists. Instead, it is a beautiful, moving, smart look at the reality of such a situation. Don’t miss it.

I will elaborate more on all of these soon, but for starters, here is my quick breakdown:

  • Grand Budapest Hotel ****
  • Like Father, Like Son ****
  • Abuse of Weakness *** ½
  • Stranger by the Lake *** 1/2
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune *** 1/2
  • Visitors *** ½
  • The Lego Movie *** ½
  • Breathe In *** ½
  • Bad Words ***
  • A Field in England ***
  • In Secret ** ½
  • Young & Beautiful ** ½
  • Endless Love **
  • The Bag Man – zero stars