When Franco Zeffirelli released his 1981 adaptation of Endless Love, Leonard Maltin said it was “a textbook example of how to do everything wrong in a literary adaptation”. Somehow, Shana Feste’s 2014 version manages to show him up. As bad as the original was — and oh, boy it was bad — it managed to get some things right, giving the remake room to get even worse.
There are a few points in common. There is a party, and there’s a fire, and there are unsent letters, none of which happen in the same context as before. And of course there are two teenagers bleating about how in love they are. Beyond that, the story we get is barely recognizable as even related to Scott Spencer’s novel. Every bit of texture or thought that survived into the 1981 script has been thoroughly erased, leaving a bland pile of glurge to be rendered, for the most part, with all the imagination of a paint-by-numbers picture.
We start this time as David Axelrod (Alex Pettyfer) and Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) graduate from high school. Working-class David has had a crush on upper-crust Jade, but she’s been unapproachable since her beloved brother died two years ago — seemingly a bizarre attempt to inject the family dynamics of Ordinary People into the Butterfield home. But they have their meet-cute, and things take off like a rocket. Jade’s mother, Ann (Joely Richardson), thinks it’s sweet that she’s falling in love, while her father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), thinks it’s a silly distraction, especially as Jade is about to go off to a prestigious internship and pre-med study at Brown in two weeks.
And the thing is, Hugh may be a hypocritical, meddling jerk, but when you get right down to it he’s right. Jade has everything going for her, and to throw that all away to spend more time with a boy she has literally just met and knows nothing about is stupid. And of course this is true: young love is stupid. The novel and the 1981 movie understood this, and presented a story of teenagers doing stupid things because that’s what teenagers do, especially when they think they’re in love. But this new version is wholly on the kids’ side, pandering to an audience of teenagers — let’s admit it: mostly girls — who are just as stupid as the characters on the screen, and desperate to have their stupidity validated.
The complications are dumbed down: David now has a jealous ex who serves up a farcical misunderstanding, drawn straight out of a CW teen soap. Gone are the scenes where the once-bohemian Butterfield parents are forced to confront the implications of a do-what-you-feel attitude where it concerns their daughter’s sexuality. Gone is every shred of nuance beyond an overbearing, hypocritical father-figure.
Make no mistake, Zeffirelli’s version was bad, and badly-made, but it at least its script preserved some of the interesting points that made Spencer’s story worthwhile. Feste has expunged even those. The production values may be higher in 2014 than in 1981, but if given the choice I will take a bad production of an interesting story over a bland production of a bland story.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.