By Richard Winters
My Rating: 2 out of 10
4-Word Review: Romance turns into obsession.
Based on the acclaimed Scott Spencer novel the story focuses on two teens locked in a relationship built around complete infatuation. Jade (Brooke Shields) is only 15 while David (Martin Hewitt) is a high school senior and 17. Jade’s parents (Don Murray, Shirley Knight) are aware that the two teens are having sex, but choose to be ‘open-minded’ and allow it, but when Jade’s grades begin to suffer her father demands that David not see her until the school year is over. David is upset at this ultimatum and decides, through advice from one of his friends (Tom Cruise) to set Jade’s house on fire and then at the last minute come in and ‘save’ them while making him look like a ‘hero’ and get back into their good graces, but things don’t work out as planned.
The film’s biggest detriment is that it chooses to emphasize mood over substance. The teen’s sex sessions are shot with a soft focus lens and gives off too much of a dreamy, fantasy feel. We are never shown how the relationship actually began as the film starts off with the two are already madly in love. It gets mentioned that they were introduced to each other by Jade’s older brother (James Spader) but it would’ve been interesting to have seen this played out as the really good movies ‘show it instead of just tell it’.
Shields has the face of an innocent 15-year-old, but her acting is not up to par and I never got the feeling of any genuine chemistry between the two. Hewitt, in his film debut, doesn’t have the acting chops to carry the movie and gets badly outperformed by Spader who would’ve played the David character far better and could also help explain why Spader has remained in the acting profession while Hewitt since 1993 has been running a home inspection business and no longer acting in movies at all.
The film’s second-half shifts too much focus on David to the point that Jade becomes this mysterious enigma. The father bars David from seeing Jade at their house, but the two could’ve easily have gotten together at school or some other place. If the two were both equally infatuated then they would’ve found a way to see each other, but they don’t, so what does this mean? Was Jade not as in to David as it was thought and what exactly was she doing and thinking during those two years when David was stuck in a mental hospital? None of this gets explained, which becomes the film’s biggest plot hole.
The story relies too heavily on extreme circumstances. For instance David’s friend gives him the idea to set the place on fire by using a stack of old wet newspapers. David then immediately goes to Jade’s home where almost like magic is a stack of old newspapers sitting on the front porch just waiting to be doused in flames. David’s chance meeting with Jade’s father in the middle of New York on a crowded highly traveled sidewalk seemed to pushing the odds as well.
Knight gives a good performance as the mother, but having the lady literally throw herself at David when he gets out of the mental hospital even after he tried to set her family on fire makes her seem crazier than he is. Murray is equally good as the father, but the fact that the guy allows the two to have sex in their house at such a young age makes him unlike most parents. Just about anyone else would’ve seen the red flags far sooner and the fact that he doesn’t until it’s too late makes him seem unusually naïve.
Spencer once stated in an interview how very disappointed he was with this film and how he felt director Franco Zeffirelli missed the whole point of what his novel was about. I agree as Zeffirelli seems driven to turn the whole thing into a modern day Romeo and Juliet while equating unhealthy obsession with love, which it isn’t. This all comes to a glaring clarity with the film’s final shot, which is the most annoying thing about this already annoying movie.
My Rating: 2 out of 10
Released: July 17, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube