It's easy today to dismiss Love Story as some sort of guilty pleasure. Every year, Harvard students engage in a ritual screening of the film on campus, where it is mocked and derided by attendees on the basis that it's corny and overly-sentimental. (Click here for story) Certainly the film shows its age in some respects but younger viewers might want to dig a little deeper below the surface to appreciate that the film and its source novel played an important role in the kinds of freedoms they enjoy today. Erich Segal's razor-thin novel was a publishing sensation when it appeared in 1969. The tearjerker story centers on Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal), a pampered jock whose wealthy father (Ray Milland) uses his money and legacy at the school as a benefactor to try to pave the way for his slacker son to get into Harvard Law. Oliver's life changes dramatically from a chance encounter with Jenny Cavalleri (Ali MacGraw), a tough-talking, independent Radcliffe student who delights in witty put-downs of Oliver's wealth and status. She's from a middle-class background and her father (John Marley) earns his living by running a neighborhood bakery. Romance blossoms: the ultimate example of opposites attracting each other. Before long, the two are making love in Oliver's dorm room and planning to marry. However, an awkward meeting with Oliver's parents makes it clear she will never be accepted- and the elder Barrett threatens to cut off Oliver's financial support should the marriage take place. Emboldened by the opportunity to stand on his own, Oliver rejects his father's threats in favor of working part time jobs to pay the rent and help support his new bride, who is actively trying to conceive a child. Oliver ultimately lands a job at a prestigious law firm but happiness is short-lived when it is discovered Jenny has a terminal illness.
The soap opera elements of Segal's script are not subtle but, under the direction of Arthur Hiller, the film remains consistently engrossing and even moving.Younger viewers who mock the film today don't realize that it spoke in very personal ways to the 60s generation. Life and social mores were changing at breakneck speed. While Easy Rider has retained its status as a hip representation of personal freedom, in reality most young people of the era didn't abandon their lives to take cross-country, drug-fueled motorcycle journeys. In reality, the signs of their rebellion were more subdued: dressing in jeans, questioning authority, adopting shaggy hair style and not feeling guilty over pursuing sexual satisfaction. These are the middle-class rebellious attitudes reflected in Love Story. Within days of their first date, Oliver and Jenny are happily shagging away with no regrets, much to the disdain of his roommate who finds himself virtually outcast from his own dorm room. For a generation weened on complacency, seeing this type of behavior on screen was liberating for millions of young people. Few thought it was corny back in 1970 and the film was a huge boxoffice hit internationally. It was also critically acclaimed, though many of those reviewers who might still be with us would probably like to bury their initial critiques. The film was nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture.
There is a tinge of sadness in watching the young, vibrant MacGraw and O'Neal, as we are all too aware that their seemingly promising careers would be derailed due to their tumultuous personal lives and demons. On screen, they make for an engaging couple you come to care about, especially as they try to establish a life of their own. Granted, that generation didn't have to deal with the type of staggering debt today's students have to contend with, but the transgression from college into adult life is still rather terrifying for most young people. Watching the film today, one is inspired by the superb cinematography of Dick Kratina- and it would be impossible to imagine the movie without Francis Lai's achingly beautiful score, which probably deserves co-star billing. Director Hiller creatively utilizes the Boston and New York locations and benefited greatly from an abundance of snow, which adds immeasurably to the movie's atmosphere. The film's melodramatic conclusion may come abruptly (Jenny doesn't linger in a way that might endanger a commercial running time), but I'll be damned if I still don't find the final scenes genuinely touching. A special mention should also be made of the fine supporting performances by Milland and Marley.
Paramount's Blu-ray contains previously-released extras such as a 2001 interview with Arthur Hiller, who relates he turned down directing The Godfather to do the film. He also contributes an audio commentary and there is the original theatrical trailer, that conveys the mood of the film through the use of still photos.
Click here to view 2010 reunion between Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal on Oprah Winfrey's show