They are so freaking pretty!
I’ve discovered something as I’ve pursued my mission to see every single film ever nominated for best picture. Quite a few of the nominees (perhaps the majority of them) are no longer impressive because they’ve simply become dated by the passage of time. We can still watch these films and understand (and believe) that they were probably quite groundbreaking and impressive when initially released.
And then there’s the films like the 1970 best picture nominee, Love Story. These are the nominees that you quickly realize were never good. These are the films that were nominated because they either dominated the box office or perhaps they just lucked out and were released in a bad year for cinema in general. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. In all honesty, the circumstances of how they came to be nominated are often enigmatic and shrouded in mystery. I have yet to read a single critic — from either 1970 or the present day — who has had a single kind thing to say about Love Story and, after sitting through it last night, I can say that for once, me and the critical establishment are in agreement.
The plot of Love Story is pretty simple and I’m going to go ahead and include the entire story here because quite frankly, it’s impossible to spoil something this predictable. Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) meets Jenny (Ali MacGraw). Oliver is a rich jock who is attending Harvard. Jenny is a poor music student. Upon first meeting her, Oliver calls Jenny a “bitch.” Jenny calls Oliver “a dumb jock.” Oliver falls in love with Jenny. Jenny calls Oliver “a dumb jock.” Oliver and Jenny get married. Oliver’s father (Ray Milland) disapproves. Jenny’s father (John Marley) is just kind of confused. Cut off from the family fortune, Oliver struggles to provide for Jenny. (Apparently, the 70s were a tough time to be a graduate of Harvard Law School.) Jenny and Oliver have a fight. Oliver cries. Jenny says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which seems to be an underhanded way of admitting that most guys aren’t ever going to say that anyways. Oliver is happy. Jenny comes down with a never-named terminal illness and dies. The end.
I know that I’m supposed to watch a movie like Love Story and just shrug my shoulders and go, “Oh well, it’s not very good but I’m a girl so I’ll love it unconditionally.” And God knows, I tried my best, I tried so very hard to just shut down my mind and give control over to my heart. Because, believe it or not, I’m just a dorky, asthmatic romantic. I’m the type of girl who gets all giggly and excited when she gets flowers, despite all of my allergies. I can remember every sunset I’ve ever watched. The rare times we actually do have a winter down here in Texas, I’m all about the snowball fights that end with a long, passionate kiss. I love Valentine’s Day and I remember anniversaries. I still have every gift that I’ve ever been given, even the really cheap and ugly things that I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing in public. Every trinket, every stuffed animal, every card, every piece of jewelery, every note, every article of lingerie, every movie ticket — if it’s an artifact of a past or current relationship, I have it all safely stored in a place of honor.
Yes, I adore everything that Love Story was selling and yet, as I watched Love Story, I felt myself growing more and more cynical with each passing moment. Fortunately, the movie only last 99 minutes because if it had gone on for a few 120, I probably would have ended up “an old maid…closing up the library!” like Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life. The problem with Love Story isn’t that it’s not romantic; it’s that it takes the standard clichés of romance and embraces them to such an extent that I didn’t feel as if I was being manipulated by the film as much as I felt like I was being brutally violated by it.
Seriously, the entire time I was watching, I felt like the film was screaming at me, “Look at how beautiful they are! Look at that sunset! Listen to that music! Cry, damn you, cry!” Never mind the fact that MacGraw and O’Neal — pretty as they are to look at — generate close to zero chemistry. Never mind that MacGraw responds to being terminally ill by laying in bed with her hair artfully spread on the pillow behind her while director Arthur Hiller practically bathes her in a warm, saintly glow. Never mind that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” doesn’t make any freaking sense at all. Trust me, if you love me and yet you still insist on acting like an asshole, you sure as Hell have to apologize to me.
On the plus side, the film’s got one of those overdone, lush soundtracks; the type that can make you cry as long as you don’t pay attention to what’s happening on-screen. (That said, Taylor Swift is nowhere to be found.) Ryan O’Neal is surprisingly likable as Oliver but Ali MacGraw — oh my God, where do I begin? Actually, I don’t think I will because there’s simply no way I can explain just how bad of a performance she gives here. Instead, I’ll just point out that Love Story also features the film debut of Tommy Lee Jones. He’s credited as Tom Lee Jones here and he plays Oliver’s roommate. He’s an on-screen for about 12 seconds and he delivers exactly one line.
Needless to say, he pretty much steals the entire film.