Film Rewind: Revisiting Love Story
June 18, 2005
"What do you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?"
Such is the question raised by young Oliver Barrett after the tragic death of his wife, Jenny. Thus begins the tormented tale of Love Story (1970).
Love Story was the sensation of the 1970's; a rich boy/poor girl saga where love prevailed over social standing
and death tore them apart. Sigh. Love Story was one of the highest grossing movies of the decade
and set the bar for romantic tearjerkers for years to come. Ladies (or gentlemen), if you want your boyfriend to
break up with you, force him to sit through this film.
I make the assumption that the majority of my generation hasn't seen this film. Thirty-five years have passed and other great
romance movies have rendered the poignant sweetness of Love Story nearly forgotten. Movies like Titanic. And, um, Something
About Mary. You know -- the classics.
It is my job to make sure that we do not forget the great cinematic achievements of yesteryear. Nominated for seven Academy Awards,
Love Story must have been good, right?
A review from an imdb.com user:
I'm a Chinese living in China. I watched this movie on TV days ago and have been thinking of it
these days. It touched me much. How many people can experience such a profound love, into the
fresh and bone? Jenny died, but the love went on. I can't imagine what a life Oliver would go.
It must be very hard. "There will never be another love another time" (as in the song 'love story').
I'm wondering why there are so many opposite words. I don't know about Oliver family, and haven't read
the novel. But this 70's-made (actually end of 60's) film gives me more understanding on love and freedom.
"O'Neal can't act"? "McGraw is ugly"? Hatchet job or echoing what other says? They are devoting actor and
actress. As for the "tearjerker", your tear is controlled by your own brain, isn't it?
Directed by Arthur Hiller, Love Story stars Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett IV and Ali MacGraw as Jennifer Cavillari.
Oliver is of the super-privileged set and hails from a wealthy Bostonian family. Top of his class at Harvard, star hockey player, all American WASP --
Oliver has everything. Jennifer, a poor Italian-American from Rhode Island, is a self-described "social zero" who is struggling to put herself through music school
at Radcliffe. A loud mouth, opinionated and liberated 70's gal, Jenny knows what she wants and isn't afraid to say so. One quickly
tires of her loquaciousness.
Erich Segal wrote the screenplay; he further capitalized upon Love Story's success by churning out a book of the same name shortly
after the film hit it big. (One of the rare instances where a movie precedes the book). Rumors flew during the 2000
Presidential Election after Al Gore claimed that he and his (oh so lovely) wife, Tipper,
were the inspiration
for Segal's love-struck characters, Oliver and Jenny. Gore and Segal were friends during the years Gore attended Harvard and
Segal was a visiting professor. As for another piece of trivial trivia, Al Gore's college roommate was none other than future actor extraordinaire,
Tommy Lee Jones. Jones appeared (credited as Tom Lee Jones) in Love Story as Oliver's roommate. Coincidence? The plot thickens.
Gore originally made his offhand comments concerning his Love Story connection in front of a group of reporters in Tennessee while campaigning
in 2000. As part of a larger piece on Gore, Time magazine included a little ditty about his Love Story affiliation. Controversy
struck after Segal allegedly claimed there wasn't a shred of truth in Gore's statement. Everything was vastly blown out of
proportion (that's the media for you) and Gore's "credibility" was attacked from all sides. (Can I remind everyone that this "outrage" is
based around hearsay concerning a crappy 1970 romance movie? Love Story became Gore's Monica Lewinsky of sorts.)
When things were finally straightened out, Segal conceded that he DID use
Gore as partial inspiration for the character of Oliver. Tommy Lee Jones figured into the character as well. However, Segal was very
adamant that Tipper was not in any way the model for free-spirit, Jenny Cavilleri. ("Free-spirit" is not what most would choose to describe
Ms. Censorship and her crusade against "porn rock"). The Love Story incident is still cited today as "proof" that Gore "stretches the truth."
It does, however, make him seem a little more exciting -- even dashing, perhaps?
The film's major theme is "love conquers all". Despite their social gap and personality differences,
Jenny the "Radcliffe Bitch" and Oliver the "Harvard Preppie" fall in love. The onset of their love affair is filled with biting banter from her (kicking
off the decade of "I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar") and weak retorts from him. One would think that Oliver and Jenny could never make
it as a twosome. Oliver exclaims shortly after meeting her,
Oliver: If you're so convinced that I'm a loser, why did you bulldoze me into buying coffee?
Jenny: I like your body.
The dialogue is bad, but the scenes sans dialogue might be worse. Their blossoming relationship is depicted through
endless montages set to Frances Lai's plinking piano score (the film's only Academy-nominated
category out of seven to actually bring home an Oscar). Jenny and Oliver study, they chase each other around in the snow, they
somehow gain access to the football stadium in order to play catch, he watches her play piano at a concert. The audience (me) goes into a coma.
Finally the big moment of reckoning dawns and Oliver indicates that he wants to marry her.
Jenny: You want to marry me? Why!?!
Jenny: That's a pretty good reason.
He takes Jenny to meet his parents at their Boston
mansion shortly after he proposes. We soon find out that Big Daddy Barrett (Oliver the Third) does not approve of his son's choice
of betrothed and will not give Oliver the Fourth "the time of day" should he choose to move forward with the wedding. Napkins are thrown
down; feet stomp out of a chic chic restaurant. Drama at last!
His father stays true to his word and Oliver the Fourth is reduced to pauperdom. Yet, their beautiful love reigns supreme and they marry. It largely falls to Jenny to support him while he attends Harvard Law School.
Her summer earnings as a counselor at Camp Tuckahoe evidently paid a pretty pennny. Meanwhile, Oliver hawks Christmas trees to make some extra cash (over the ever present
Love Story theme music). Isn't there an internship at a law office he could tap into?
Jenny and Oliver settle into married life. Their first big row occurs after Oliver refuses to attend his father's 60th birthday party. Even as Jenny
pleads for Oliver to speak to his father ("do it for me, Ollie"), he stubbornly resists. She runs out in tears. We are forced endure another
drawn-out montage of eternity while Oliver searches the Harvard campus for his upset wife. He runs to and fro across the campus, poking
his head into all the music rooms, behind bushes, in alleys. The theme music threatens to drive one to suicide.
Ryan O'Neal's face betrays the strain of an actor trying really hard to act.
He finally finds her sobbing on their porch steps. She forgot her keys. As Oliver makes motion to apologize, Jenny stops him short, tear-stained face
turned up plaintively:
Love means never having to say you're sorry.
I dare you to use this line on your beloved after she finds her favorite cashmere sweater ruined because you put it through the wash.
Or test it out after he catches you in bed with a twenny-dolla-whore. Go on -- try it! You'll be forgiven. I promise.
Oliver eventually graduates third in his class at Harvard Law. He takes a job at a law firm and they leave their Cambridge flat for more prosperous digs in New York.
Oliver confesses to his racketball buddy (while in the shower) that he and Jenny are working on "making babies." All is going swimmingly until Oliver checks in with
Dr. Shapely to discuss possible reasons they aren't getting pregnant. Jenny's absence soon becomes clear. Dr. Shapely drops the bomb --
JENNY'S DYING!! It is almost as though Erich Segal got sick of his own characters and decided -- what the hell -- let's kill off one of these crazy kids just for kicks.
The ridiculous delivery of the death news is worth transcribing in toto:
Oliver: Do you know whose fault it is?
Dr. Shapely: I wouldn't use the word "fault," Oliver.
Oliver: Ok, put it your way -- two 24-year-olds can't seem to make a baby. Obviously one of us is malfunctioning. Who?
Dr. Shapely: Jenny.
Oliver: Alright, then we'll adopt kids.
Dr. Shapely: Oliver, the problem is more serious than that. Jenny is very sick.
Oliver: Define very sick.
Dr. Shapely: She's dying.
(Ryan O'Neal tries very hard to contort his face into a distraught expression. He conjures up thoughts of the puppy that was hit by a car when he was eight.)
Oliver: That's impossible.
Dr. Shapely: I'm sorry to have to tell you this.
Oliver: That's impossible. Well, it's a mistake -- it has to be!
Dr. Shapely: We did the blood tests three times. No question about the diagnosis. She'll have to be told soon. We
can withhold treatment for a little while, but not for long. We'll have to begin therapy within the next few weeks.
1) This is presumably an obstetrician diagnosing cancer; and 2) HE'S TELLING THE HUSBAND BEFORE HER. Even worse, when Oliver arrives home later,
Jenny is all smiles after the ethical (but shapely) doc told her that everything is "fine.")
Oliver: She's only 24... Will it be painful?
Dr. Shapely: Hopefully not. You'll of course want to speak to a hematologist. I can refer you to Dr. Addison.
(Because, Oliver, I am completely unqualified to be telling you that your wife has terminal cancer. Now...about your sperm count...)
Oliver: What do I do? I mean, what can I do for Jenny?
Dr. Shapely: Act as normal as possible for as long as possible. That's really the best thing.
Oliver: Normal. Ok. I'll be as normal as hell.
Don't bother the little lady with bad news like the cat scratched up
the good leather chair or that cancer is ravaging her body. Just be cheerful and normal until she drops over,
completely taken by surprise as the terminal disease eats away her last precious minutes of life. Who wants to go on a picnic?! Yay! I do!
Jenny eventually finds out about her condition from Dr. Addison -- a doctor who apparently has more scruples than Dr. Shapely when it comes to being
straight with his patients when they're DYING. Jenny and Oliver share several touching moments prior to her premature demise.
She insists that he will be a "merry widower" and makes him promise
that he will, in fact, be merry. Enter another painful montage. This time Jenny watches Oliver dart and
weave on a skating rink in Central Park. As they make their final trek to the hospital, the camera swings high above the couple as they trudge
through an expanse of snow, reminiscent of their old healthy days, romping on the Harvard quad. Sigh.
Oliver, still cut off from his father's millions and desperate to do whatever it takes to save Jenny, bites the bullet and visits Oliver Barrett the Third.
He asks his father for five thousand dollars without betraying what the money is for. His father is left believing Oliver the Fourth "got some
girl in trouble." Oh, the brutal irony.
Jenny lies upon her deathbed looking dewy as a fresh flower. I hope I look this good when I'm about to succumb to terminal cancer. At least
we're spared a scene depicting her actual death. It just would have been...hiccup...too painful.
Oliver leaves the hospital in a daze. He encounters his father who has rushed down from Boston after he "made a few calls" and found out the real
story of why his son asked for money.
Oliver Sr: Oliver, I want to help.
Oliver Jr: Jenny's dead!
Oliver Sr: Oh Oliver, I'm so sor---
He stops his father in mid-sentence:
Love means never having to say you're sorry.
There you have it. Oliver repeats Jenny's words wisdom and stumbles off to the skating rink (now poignantly empty and barren)
where he and his dead wife shared their last moments before the hospital. The movie has come full circle, leaving us with the opening scene of Oliver
reflecting mournfully on the skating rink bleachers. This allows you to watch it over and over again, seamlessly. A vicious cycle. Tormenting
the soul for ever and ever.
Another imdb.com user opines:
I love a good sappy love story (and I'm a guy) but when I rented Love Story I prayed for the end to come as quickly
and painlessly as possible and just the opposite for Ali McGraw's character.
Ali MacGraw as Jenny alienated and irritated the heck out of me within the first 15 minutes. When we learn that she has
been diagnosed with a life threatening illness I couldn't help but wonder if her death would be such a terrible loss for
poor Oliver or if anyone watching this film would even care. If she didn't die her grating personality would probably have
pushed Oliver over the edge and eventually landed them in divorce court.
The public couldn't get enough of Love Story during the 70's. With all the acclaim, one would assume that the film
sparked mega-careers for O'Neal and MacGraw. Not really. Ryan O'Neal is much better known
for his involvement with 70's It Girl, Farrah Fawcett, than he was for his acting. MacGraw appeared in a few films, married Steve McQueen
and sort of faded out.
O'Neal did earn recognition for his work in Paper Moon (1973) alongside real-life daughter, Tatum. At age ten, Tatum was the youngest person to win an
Academy Award -- a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as orphan, Addie Loggins. Ryan carted his young daughter around to flashy Hollywood
parties, and much like Drew Barrymore, she ended up a teenage drug addict. Shortly after Ryan became involved with Farrah "Nipples" Fawcett in 1980,
Tatum expressed her disapproval of her father's new girlfriend. Ryan informed Tatum that she could move out. They haven't spoken in years.
Now in her 40's, Tatum released a "tell-all" book, Paper Life, in 2004. The ultimate celebrity catharsis, she appeared on Oprah to
bring her painful childhood into public view. And, of course, to plug her book. In it, Tatum slags on her dad's abuse, her mother's neglect and substance
problems and her tumultuous marriage to tennis great, John McEnroe from 1986 - 1994. She also reveals her own struggles with cocaine and heroin addiction,
going as far as to describe how her seven-year-old daughter found one of her syringes. On the topic of Farrah, Tatum said, "I just don't know how to
communicate with her. Like, I don't know if she remembers, you know what I mean? Like I just don't know what planet she's on."
Most recently, Tatum was purported to have "gone on a lesbian rampage"
at a club in NYC's Meatpacking District. It looks like she's on the road to recovery.
Ali MacGraw was married to Paramount exec Robert Evans from 1969 - 1972. She left him for Steve McQueen in 1973. (Rent The Kid Stays In the
Picture if you care to hear Robert Evans' side of the story). She turned down roles after
promising McQueen that she would help take care of him during his "semi-retirement." A bad decision, considering they divorced in 1978.
Her screen time dwindled. She did, however, make regular appearances on Dynasty as Lady Ashley Mitchell. She also made a yoga
video on 1994. All the celebrities are doing, after all.
Love Story endures for some as one of the greatest romances ever to hit the big screen. For those who feel that way, I am sorry.
But remember, dear readers:
Love means never having to say you're sorry.