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Dustin Putman

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Endless Love  (2014)
2 Stars
Directed by Shana Feste.
Cast: Gabriella Wilde, Alex Pettyfer, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, Robert Patrick, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi, Emma Rigby, Anna Enger, Fabianne Therese.
2014 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content, brief partial nudity and some language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 12, 2014.
"Endless Love" is a remake of Franco Zeffirelli's 1981 teen love story starring Brooke Shields and Martin Hewitt, itself made from Scott Spencer's 1979 novel, but viewers shouldn't be too hard on themselves if they assume it's the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation. All of the obvious chestnuts typically found in romantic melodramas are on hand and accounted for, the screenplay by director Shana Feste (2010's "Country Strong") and co-writer Joshua Safran (TV's "Smash") finally overstuffing itself when less would have undoubtedly been more, and better. Where the film is able to excel beyond its triter elements is in Feste's sympathetic understanding of what it is like to be on the precipice of adulthood while falling in love for the first time. She does not look down upon her characters, but strives to understand and care about them. It's a glossier rendition of 1989's "Say Anything" and 2013's "The Spectacular Now," but the two leads and astute supporting players are too likable to dismiss.

Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) and David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) have just graduated from the same Atlanta high school when they officially meet for the first time—not exactly the best timing. Jade, whose oldest brother passed away two years earlier, believes she has missed out on her teen years and suddenly feels the urge to make up for lost time. David has pined for Jade from afar for a long time, finally mustering up the courage to talk to her while valeting at her family's country club. Their passionate relationship quickly escalates, prospective pre-med student Jade dreading the summer internship for which she will soon have to leave town. While her mother, Anne (Joely Richardson), is taken with David and pleased at seeing her daughter so happy, stubborn father Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) sees this young man—the son of "lowly" mechanic Harry (Robert Patrick)—as a direct threat to Jade's future.

There are a lot of "of course" moments in "Endless Love." Of course, Hugh is going to look down on his daughter's suitor for not being, in his eyes, good enough for her. Of course, there are going to be falling outs between family members and lovers. Of course, David will stumble upon a dark secret of Hugh's, who promptly threatens him if he reveals it. Of course, there will be a jealous ex-girlfriend (Emma Rigby) who creates a misunderstanding for the lovebirds. Of course, there is going to be an unexpected accident, and maybe even a climax where something terrible happens that will put things into perspective for all involved. Lord knows the machinations of the plot grind again and again, and eventually too frequently. What is also difficult to deny is how assured director Shana Feste is at evoking a gushy, swoon-worthy mood. She uses music as a valuable asset to enhance rather than overpower the story being told—soundtrack cues featuring In the Valley Below's "Peaches," NONONO's "Pumpin Blood," and Empire of the Sun's "Alive" are perfectly placed—while taking her time to listen to her characters and observe what they are going through.

From the moment they share the screen, Gabriella Wilde (2013's "Carrie") and Alex Pettyfer (2012's "Magic Mike") are an irresistible match as Jade and David. Wilde is a willowy, blonde-haired, apple-cheeked beauty, but she is more than simply attractive, revealing a keen intelligence and depth to go along with her character's understandable naiveté. The bigger surprise is Pettyfer, one of those chiseled twenty-something actors who has rarely brought anything of note to his roles. In the past, he has been bland, wooden, or worse, but watching him as David is like seeing him almost for the first time. A guy who hasn't really thought about branching out from his dad's car-repair business, he is inspired purely through his burgeoning love for Jade to consider something more for his life. There is more going on beneath the surface, too, and Pettyfer excels at getting to play someone who is complicated, flawed, and not defined by his looks. As a couple, Wilde and Pettyfer are the major reason to seek the film out, a graduation party where they collaborate for a 30-minute dance choreography game a shrewd, original way for the two of them to initially bond.

The supporting characters are generally captured with more distinctive layers than usually attributed, the exceptions being David's ex-girlfriend, who never grows beyond a plot device, and his best friend, Mace (Dayo Okeniyi), who is too much of a wisecracker for his own good. As Hugh, Bruce Greenwood (2012's "Flight") brings intensity and some definite spite to the biggest antagonistic roadblock in Jade's and David's way, but he isn't a bad guy just to be a bad guy. Still struggling to come to terms with his son's death, Hugh has made a number of self-destructive decisions that are quickly coming back to haunt him. In the meantime, he cannot let Jade go from the invisible leash he has her on and let her make her own decisions. His actions, though wrongheaded, derive from love and a little selfishness, and Greenwood gives the role a stubborn sadness.

In contrast, Joely Richardson's (2011's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") Anne is thrilled for her daughter, seeing in Jade the young woman she herself used to be. Yearning for that kind of love again and frustrated by Hugh's alienating ways, Anne finally arrives at a make-or-break point where she is willing to stand up for herself and what she believes in. Richardson is touching in the part, and also charming, a scene where David catches Anna sneaking her novel to the forefront of a book store display the kind of little, seemingly frivolous detail that helps to bring welcome shading to her character. Robert Patrick (2013's "Identity Thief"), understated and down-to-earth as Harry, and the always eye-catching Rhys Wakefield (2013's "The Purge"), as Jade's college-aged brother Keith, round out the above-average cast.

As darkly precarious as things get for Jade and David in "Endless Love," the outcome is tinged with a hopeful essence absent from the '81 original. Never is the message sent out that the characters must sacrifice their professional dreams for their interpersonal ones, and the compromise Feste comes to in broaching this subject is one that rings true. Other segments fall the way of the unnecessarily overwrought, so it would have been nice to fine-tune the balance between aiming to please romantically starved viewers and knowing when to pull back from excess. Granted, they are still very young, but Jade and David appear to have a fighting chance of being eternal soul mates. Perhaps the film's highest achievement is in following two people who do seem so right for each other. Theirs is a love that might conceivably have no end.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman