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‘Endless Love’ Review

Endless Love (2014)
Universal Pictures

Often felt in the hormone-fueled heydays of youth, first love can be a frenzy of overwhelming passion and dizzying lust. So of course it’s a sensational jumping off point for drama. Add in a dash of deep parental disapproval, and you’ve got the stuff of Shakespeare. Sadly, while the new movie ‘Endless Love’ has the premise for great romantic drama, it lacks the conviction and execution, coming up boring where it should be bold.

Following the 1981 Brooke Shields vehicle of the same name, ’Endless Love’ is the second adaptation of Scott Spencer’s novel about tragedy-strewn teen romance. The basic premise of two teen lovers torn apart by circumstance and parents who just don’t understand remains intact. But writer-director Shana Feste and co-screenwriter Joshua Safran have tweaked the details in a presumed attempt to make this story freshly engaging.

This time Jade (Gabriella Wilde) is a beautiful and brilliant wallflower who is set to be pre-med at a major university, while David (Alex Pettyfer) is a blue-collared but sexy rebel, complete with a criminal record and no college ambition. Of course, Jade’s father (Bruce Greenwood) — an uppity and affluent patriarch — doesn’t approve, and so does everything in his power to keep them apart in their shared summer after high school graduation. Ironically, the screenwriters’ shake-up just made ‘Endless Love’ more similar to other memorable ’80s romances, like ‘Dirty Dancing’ or ‘Say Anything.’ And it suffers in comparison.

OK, so the plot is one that’s been done to death. This could be forgiven if the leads shared the kind of enviable spark that Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze did in ‘Dirty Dancing.’ There’s a bizarre allusion to this classic thanks to a wedged-in dance number (because that’s what teens do at parties, right, choreograph?). But Feste’s stars can’t muster the sexual chemistry needed to make for hot romance. Wilde and Pettyfer are both beautiful people, yet deadly dull onscreen. They each deliver shallow and wooden performances that add no heat to the narrative. Plus, it strains suspension of disbelief to buy that Pettyfer is only 18, and Wilde wears teen angst about as well as she does a Jade’s long line of ill-fitting costumes.

It’s not all their fault. Partially to blame is the atrocious script, which has characters speak almost solely in exposition or overt character motivation. Forget subtext or subtlety. Instead Jade’s dad sneers, “Love is wonderful, but it’s not all you need.” And she wines, “He’s here now, and I don’t want him to leave!” It almost feels like the filmmakers don’t trust teenagers (clearly the PG-13 feature’s target audience) to comprehend anything more complex. Frankly, it’s insulting and shows how out of touch Feste is with the film’s key demographic. She then doubles down with a sex scene that is so tame it’s laughable, not lustful. You can watch less sanitized love stories on television.

Yet the irritatingly simplistic dialogue isn’t even the script’s greatest fault. That would be the plot’s reliance on a series of misunderstandings as their focal obstacle. Any one would be easy to explain, but Feste’s cast is forced steam ahead as if each demands teary-eyed drama. By the end, these plot points collide into a nonsensical spiral of betrayals, jealousies and shouting matches that had me eagerly anticipating when I could just go home already.

For all this, ‘Endless Love’ is not all bad. If you can look past the insipid plot, the terrible dialogue and the criminally blandsome romantic leads, you’ll find some charming supporting turns. Dayo Okeniyi, who made his film debut in ‘The Hunger Games’ as Thresh, brings some much-needed energy and charisma to the narrative as David’s rowdy buddy Mace. And Robert Patrick offers some depth and warmth in the role of David’s father. These two and the rousing soundtrack — which features songs from Tegan and Sara, the Bird and The Bee, Franz Ferdinand and more — manage to bring some actual life to this lackluster love story, just not enough to save it from itself.

All in all, ‘Endless Love’ is a remake that feels like a pale imitation of better love stories that have come before. It’s told without grace or artistry, and underestimates its audience with a script that never should have been given the green light.

Watch the ‘Endless Love’ Trailer

Next: Listen to the 'Endless Love' Soundtrack

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