Love Story (1970)

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Love Story (1970) is about…well, if the title is not literal enough, I don’t know what else is. Random, but why does Ali Macgraw look so creepy in this poster? She looks semi-possessed and Ryan O’Neal looks as though he is more than desperate to break away from her evil clutches.

Love Story has a pretty bad reputation nowadays. Some call it the WORST film ever nominated for the best picture, which is a bit harsh in my opinion. I feel like I have seen films that are MUCH worse than this one, even some of the best picture winners. (*coughs*Rain Man*coughs*). Although I agree that the best picture, best director and best SUPPORTING ACTOR (this one baffles me) nominations are a bit too much, I actually enjoyed the film. A lot, I might add. Sure, it’s no masterpiece and it has its flaws but it didn’t leave me with a bad aftertaste.

What I liked the most about the film is the simplicity of the story. It could have veered 100% into melodrama territory, but I feel like the director actually reigned it in, making it watchable. The problems faced by the couple were realistic enough; parents’ disapproval of their relationship, different social statuses, guy facing immense pressure by parents to be a lawyer despite him not really wanting to…sure, these problems may seem trivial but hey, it’s not like they were living in extremely harsh times or anything. I can even relate to the guy’s feeling sometimes, but let’s not go there LOL. I’m glad they didn’t add a third party (aka man stealing bitch) or that would have driven me nuts. I have seen enough of that crap in Korean dramas, thanks.

I must also add that the chemistry between the two leads is incredibly strong, which really took me by surprised. Throughout the entire film, I really felt the attraction between them, and obviously this is the most important aspect of the film. I was actually interested in the couple’s story and progress throughout the whole movie, even if I not necessarily liked their individual personalities.

I’ll also go ahead now and say that I thought the acting was good. Ali Macgraw’s best actress nomination is HATED, I tell you, but to me it’s far from the worst nominated performance that I have seen. Sure, her line readings sound very, very rehearsed and calculated, and I won’t deny that this could be due to limitations in her acting but guess what? It worked, because it reinforced the fact that Jenny was a try-hard smart ass to me. I also thought she sold her vulnerable moments well enough, and I was actually quite saddened by her death bed scene, especially when she told Oliver that she refused to have him crying at her side. So yes, maybe I indeed know nothing about acting (oh shut up), but I enjoyed her performance. It’s no masterpiece, and the award went to the correct performance that year (Glenda Jackson in Women in Love, which I LOVE by the way – insanely, bizarre, but brilliant). Ryan O’Neal’s performance as the rebellious, pressured Oliver was fine too, but he’s nowhere near Jack Nicholson or George C. Scott. Still, he did show how the character changed into a more mature and independent man very effectively.

However…while I have praised the film for its simplicity, I also felt that this was the main thing that stood in its way of greatness. It’s just nothing special. Maybe I will agree that Arthur Hiller set the pace right for the film – it’s not too fast, with sufficient development of the love story, and it’s also not too slow to the point that it becomes overly sappy. This is one of the main reason why the movie is so easy and enjoyable to watch. But like I said, is it an amazing feat in directing? Hmm, I guess back then seeing such a simplistic love story must have been a considered a breath of fresh air from the usual melodrama.

The score is a very iconic tune by Francis Lai which I’m sure EVERYBODY would have heard at least once. Heck, I used to play this on the piano without knowing that it actually came from this movie. It’s a very beautiful, haunting and tragic piece that….doesn’t really fit the tone of the movie, I feel. I would describe the love story here as touching, saddening and beautiful (yeah, yeah so what), but I’ve always felt that this score was more towards Romeo and Juliet territory. Of course, this could be due to my initial interpretation of it when I played it on the piano, but I always felt that it sounded strange when it’s playing in the movie – the intensities are vastly different.

Another issue I had was that famous “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” line. Yes, I know it’s strange that my main issues with the film are the iconic parts, but I literally rolled my eyes when Macgraw said that line. So corny and contrived! It’s as though the writers were like “we need to fit in an iconic line somewhere” so they had to slot it into the quarreling scene, which was actually quite well written up till this line. And then O’Neal had to dramatically stick his hand up and repeat it to his father at the end…sighs.

And why can’t they at least tell us what disease she’s suffering from? Man, there needs to be a limit to the level of simplicity haha! I mean, I get that cancer would have been too corny, but a mysterious “Ali Macgraw’s Disease” (as defined by Roger Ebert) is a bit silly, no? Without showing any symptoms, she simply grows more beautiful and dies.

So…despite all the flaws, I am going to admit that I really liked the movie. I guess this is what most people would call guilty pleasure, and I won’t deny that I went into this one with exceedingly low expectations, which explains why I liked it much more than I thought I would. Not an amazing achievement. FAR from the worst best picture nominee. 3.5/5. I wanted to give in to the criticism and award it a lenient 3, but heck, I liked it anyway.

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