Endless Love

Year: 1981
Production Co: Polygram Filmed Entertainment
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Writer: Judith Rascoe
Cast: Martin Hewitt, Brooke Shields, Shirley Knight, Richard Kiley, Don Murray, Beatrice Straight, James Spader, Ian Ziering, Jami Gertz, Tom Cruise, Robert Altman

Not since Jailhouse Rock or Rhinestone has so tacky a film come along based on or inextricably linked with a piece of music that permeated popular culture so completely. The Diana Ross/Lionel Ritchie ballad was everywhere in the early 80s and if you don't mind a bit of schmaltz, it's still a pretty beautiful love song.

What a shame about the movie. I can't figure out why screenwriter Judith Rascoe couldn't figure out some more prosaic happenstance to keep two obsessed young lovers apart. But a fatal car accident? Arson? Incarceration in a mental hospital? A horny MILF subplot? It was like coming into a bad soap opera halfway through its run that was already jumping the shark with ever more ridiculous plot twists.

David (Martin Hewitt, who never went anywhere after this film) and Jade (Brooke Shields, in the period of her career where she was too young to see most of her movies) are already madly in love when the film opens.

David is a fixture at Jade's family home, getting on famously with her liberal, party-loving parents Ann (Shirley Knight) and doctor Hugh (Don Murray) and her two brothers, Keith (James Spader, so young I couldn't figure out at first if it was even him) and Sammy (Beverly Hills 90210/ Sharknado hunk Ian Ziering, barely even a teenager).

he's particularly taken with Jade's family because his own parents are distant, too consumed with Ivy League causes to really bother with their son. They're played by Beatrice Straight (the immortal Dr Lesh from Poltergeist ) and Richard Kiley (whose voiceover commentary of the exhibits was one of the examples John Hammond bought up of how Jurassic Park had 'spared no expense').

David and Jade want to spend all their time together, David even pretending to go home but slipping quietly back in the door so they can make out and have sex in front of the fireplace. But Jade isn't getting enough sleep, and when her schooling starts to slip and her father catches her trying to steal sleeping pills from his stash, Hugh forbids David from coming around for a month, Keith turning on him as well.

There's the basis for a classic star cross'd lover fable for the ages, but barely half an hour in, the whole thing veers wildly off the tracks. Meaning to frighten everyone and present himself as a hero (I guess?!?), David lights fire to a pile of newspapers on Jade's porch, seems to think better of it as he walks away and only just has enough time to wake everyone up and get them out after the fire has taken hold, destroying the house.

He's sentenced to a psychiatric facility, imploring his parents to get him out and pining to get back to Jade, even though her entire family has fallen apart and scattered to the winds. When he gets out, it enters even more bonkers territory as he tries to track Jade down. He finds Ann living alone in New York after she and Hugh have divorced, and visits her to find out where Jade now lives. Instead she tries to bang him, prompting him to run off, only to be spotted in the street by Hugh and his new girlfriend, who gives chase with tragic results.

Throw in the era-appropriate but very problematic way he tries to 'convince' Jade she still loves him when they finally do see each other again and the entire thing is a bit of a train crash.

For some reason I thought Franco Zeffirelli was a high-quality director (although I'm basing that on the version of Hamlet he did with Mel Gibson in the early 90s), but the performances are so ripe and overcooked – more suited to an exploitation genre – I thought I'd accidentally stumbled across a Dario Argento film. One scene in particular of Hewitt emotionally lashing out at his parents while standing in the courtyard of the asylum is borderline laughable.

I have no idea what it is even after watching it. Apparently the novel on which it's based at least makes the same set pieces that appear in the movie heartfelt and coherent. I'm going to listen to the song again and try to forget the movie even exists.

But keep your eye on the kid who lounges, shirtless, on the grass after playing sport - we predict he'll be a big shot someday. Hint... it's Tom Cruise.

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