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Love means never having to say you're sorry... and buying this Ryan O'Neal/Ali McGraw weepy on yet another home theater format....
Paramount / 100 Minutes / 1970 / Rated PG / Street Date: February 7, 2012
Love Story is the prototypical "romantic weepie." Though I usually don't like to give away any plot points in my reviews, this one will have to be an exception, because there is no way to talk about this film without giving away the central premise (so skip right down to the technical portion of this review if you want to be surprised.) While Love Story didn't invent the modern "Disease of the Week" TV movie, it just might as well have. Certainly, Hollywood churned out plenty of tragic, romantic melodramas before Love Story, a genre some say was perfected in the "golden age" of the 30's and 40's. But Love Story came out in 1970, the era of Vietnam, Watergate, Martin Luther King and the rise of "youth culture." Yet despite being so traditional in approach, the film still clicked in a big way with audiences of the time, and became a huge hit. And I mean huge.
So, how to account for all the excitement? On paper, and especially given today's sensibilities, Love Story seems uninspired and highly unoriginal. This is yet another of those tearjerkers where a beautiful, young couple destined to be together is ultimately torn apart by tragedy. Yep, here we go again...the chick bites it in the end. Predictable? You bet, but only in hindsight (and, it is worth noting, Love Story wasn't greeted with unanimous critical praise at the time, even despite its Oscar nominations and box office success.) However, back in the 70's, we hadn't yet suffered the three decades of Love Story-inspired rip-offs that followed in wake of the film's success, so I'm sure it all seemed a bit more fresh. And the film is shrewd. It may be old-fashioned, but it wasn't clueless that the era's young audience was "hip" and demanded some sense of modernity. Think The Graduate meets Camille.
Admittedly, I didn't initially care to revisit the film on this new Blu-ray edition. How interesting could this story be forty years later, especially since I've already seen it told a thousand times before? Even if Love Story was the first modern "chick flick," it would have to seem totally lame by now, right? Wrong. I got totally suckered into this claptrap! Despite being rather dated, the core chemistry between leads Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw really works. I liked them, and while still maudlin, the film is generally successful in creating believable characters rather than mere star-crossed ciphers. The film is also not as glossy as it may seem - director Arthur Hiller has a good feel for time and place, and the locations seem authentic.
So despite the cliche it has become, it remains easy to see why Love Story was so appealing to audiences of the time. By the end, even a cynical bastard like me was reaching for the Kleenex. Heaven help me, I'm going to admit it, right here in print ... Love Story made me cry. Now, excuse me while I grab my disguise, head for the border, and deport myself to Mexico in shame...