Blog Directory CineVerse: Loving "Love Story" means never having to say you're sorry for it

Loving "Love Story" means never having to say you're sorry for it

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

If you’re hankering for a movie about amore that offers a bit more than the usual affectionate sentiment, look to Love Story, the 1970 weeper that enthralled America for months and created the earworm main theme to end all main themes. Just be forewarned that all the hype heaped upon this film five decades ago may feel like overkill today, when it’s much easier to poke holes in heart-shaped balloons inflated by Hollywood honchos eager to cash in on syrupy romance pictures. Still, Love Story is not without its charms and heartstring tugs, and our CineVerse group found plenty to parse through last week in its exploration in this movie. Here’s a roundup of our prominent conversation points (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

What was surprising, unexpected, memorable, or curious about Love Story?

  • At the time, this was one of the biggest box office juggernauts ever, earning, in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation, $641 million; in fact, Love Story ranks number 41 on the all-time (adjusted dollars) box office list.
  • Perhaps the film’s instant and continued success between 1970 and 1971 can partially be attributed to fortuitous sociocultural timing.
    • In an era when many Americans were disillusioned and fatigued by the Vietnam War and the turbulence that ended the 1960s, maybe a straightforward and unapologetic tale of passionate, true love was exactly what audiences were looking for – a romantic escape from a depressing time in American history, even though Love Story is a tragedy and ends on a downbeat note.
    • This film can be seen as a verification that genuine, unconditional love is the most powerful bond human beings can share, which would have been a life-affirming message during a time of violence, hate, distrust, and sociopolitical angst.
    • Remarkably, the filmmakers and characters don’t touch on the political unrest prevalent at that time, including the Vietnam War – despite the fact that they are on the campus of Harvard, where you’d likely expect to see more outspoken views and protests.
  • However, many critics and moviegoers looked unkindly on this film for several reasons:
    • The cloying and repetitive theme song played throughout the picture (note that the score won an Academy Award);
    • Jennifer’s snarky attitude and the sometimes prickly rapport between her and Oliver;
    • the cliché and pretentious line “love means never having to say you’re sorry”, which to some sounded more like an emotionally manipulative marketing tagline (which it was, being used on the film’s poster);
    • overacting and/or underacting from Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw;
    • the ham-fisted and annoyingly obvious class warfare theme hammered home again and again;
    • lack of foreshadowing or build-up to Jennifer’s sickness (other than the fact that the movie opens at the end of the story, with Oliver revealing that his love has died);
    • implausibilities like the lovers not crying or breaking down, as would be expected of any human being, between the time Jennifer’s ailment is revealed and when she succumbs to it.
  • Love Story would have been slightly controversial, or at least attention-getting, because the lovers consider themselves to be atheists.
  • Interestingly, Jennifer’s illness is not disclosed in the film, although it is named in the book (leukemia). This begs the question: Should the filmmakers have been more specific about the terminal illness? Does it diminish the authenticity of the experience to at least not provide more details to the audience about what she is suffering from?
  • The creator of the story, Erich Segal, was asked to pen a novel of his screenplay; the book was released before the movie hit theaters, and it became a major bestseller, helping to drum up significant interest and enthusiasm for the forthcoming film. However, many believe the movie is better than the book.

Major themes

  • Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
    • Actress Ali McGraw said in an interview: “Saying sorry isn't what it's about. It's about really feeling badly for the hurt ... and then absolutely trying never to do it again. So there's a lot of work more than, 'Gee, I'm sorry,' and then scooting outside to get on your bike and ride into the fall leaves or whatever."
  • Life is short, but love is eternal. Oliver and Jennifer feel like star-crossed soulmates who were destined to be together and love one another forever. Oliver will presumably continue to love and miss Jennifer after her death.
  • Opposites attract. Oliver is wealthy and privileged, while Jennifer comes from a working-class family and is a Catholic. Despite their differences and backgrounds, they fall in love and complete one another, although there are arguments, conflicts, and compromises along the way.

Similar works

  • Oliver’s Story, a 1978 sequel starring Ryan O’Neal
  • Terms of Endearment
  • The Way We Were
  • Summer of ‘42
  • Sunshine (1973)
  • The English Patient
  • The Notebook
  • A Walk to Remember
  • The Fault In Our Stars

Other films by Arthur Hiller

  • The In-Laws
  • Silver Streak
  • The Out-of-Towners
  • See No Evil, Hear No Evil

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