By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Romance and then death.
Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) is attending Harvard Law School where he meets Jenny (Ali MacGraw) a student studying classical music. The two don’t hit-it-off at first, but eventually fall in love and marry despite the objections of Oliver’s father (Ray Milland). Just as things seem to be falling into place Jenny gets diagnosed with a fatal illness, which sends Oliver’s world spinning out-of-control.
Erich Segal’s script, which he later turned into a best-selling novel, is simplistic, but the on-location shooting done in and around Harvard is outstanding and helps give the film, along with some well done hockey footage, an added energy. This is one of only a few films to be allowed to shoot there and they were kicked out after only a week due to being too much of a distraction, but it was just enough to give the movie a good authentic college vibe. The snowy landscape plays a big part of it and there’s even a scene where the two play in it, but some shots feature a lot of it in the background only to have a few scenes spliced in where there is none of it on the ground, which makes it a bit visually jarring.
On the romantic side I liked the fact that Jenny is initially prickly towards Oliver and he has to work at getting her to soften up. Men actually do enjoy a challenge and having a woman just throw herself at a guy, or having the relationship start out seamlessly is just not as interesting or realistic. However, having Oliver profess that he ‘loves’ her after only the first date glosses over the courtship aspect too much and essentially ruins the intrigue in the process.
O’Neal is excellent here and he was picked over a lot of other big name stars simply for his ability to react to a situation in effective ways, which he ends up doing quite well. Yet I felt it would’ve worked better had he been the one from the poor-side-of-town as he’s more convincing as a rugged blue collar type instead of a studious student, or their contrasting economic backgrounds not been played-up at all since for me it didn’t really add much.
The film’s most notorious flaw though, and one that was parodied in a very funny send-up of the movie on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, is the whole mystery illness thing (supposedly it’s leukemia, but never explicitly stated) that comes out of nowhere without Jenny ever showing an symptoms and having her die in a sudden car accident would’ve solved this issue and been more believable.
Personally though I was more shocked by the fact that the Dr. tells Oliver about Jenny’s diagnosis before he informs her. If she were a child that would be fine, but she’s an adult and deserves to know about her own health affairs before anyone else and if this had occurred today it would’ve gotten him into a lot of trouble.
The narrative also gets a bit askew as Oliver takes the news much harder than she does. Shot after shot shows him getting all misty-eyed almost like the viewer should feel worse for him, as he is now losing the object of his affections instead of her for losing her life.
End of Spoiler Alert!
The film is also famous for the line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, which to me never made any sense as relationships are dependent on the other party asking for forgiveness when they’ve done wrong and simply presuming they can get away with anything and expect unconditional acceptance doesn’t work. Two of my female friends agreed with me on this, which only proves how placid and shallow this film ultimately is.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: December 16, 1970
Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Director: Arthur Hiller
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube