"Endless Love" resembles a menagerie of dramas that have come before, films such as "The Notebook" and "Great Expectations," though that's to be expected given the familiarity of the narrative technique on display. Ah, yes, our subject matter is puppy love, so fresh and pure, juxtaposed against a mean father who won't let nature take its course. "Endless Love," a remake of the 1981 movie starring Brooke Shields, itself an adaptation of the 1979 novel by Scott Spencer, is here to make you fondly reminisce on those first tender days of youthful relationships. That by the end you'll be cringing is an unfortunate side effect of some structural choices down the line, a tough break for everyone involved.
The one positive attribute "Endless Love" has going for it in abundance is the sizzling duo at the center of the film. Gabriella Wilde and Alex Pettyfer truly do seem meant for each other, especially in the sense that they are both better looking than everyone else at every party you've been to. In classic Hollywood fashion they are playing an 18 and 17-year-old, just as all 20-something actors must, and we begin our story at their high school graduation. Jade (Wilde) has been a reclusive shut-in for her entire teenage experience, due to a tragedy in her family, while David (Pettyfer) has admired her from afar. These opening few minutes already start to feel like a stretch, mostly because Jade looks like a Seventeen model, but we're saved by the easy friendship of David and Mace (Dayo Okeniyi) before things get too out of hand. They're valets at a local country club in the heart of Georgia, so of course they get into the sorts of easy shenanigans perfected by "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." "Endless Love" does well initially to reasonably avoid pointless melodrama, choosing a lighthearted and earnest vibe instead; this makes the first half of the film relatively watchable.
Sadly, things go desperately wrong after the opening promise; by the end of the film "oh no!" events are being thrown on the screen, one after another, until it's hard not to feel fatigued. Tonally, "Endless Love" is all over the place, wildly diverging from second to second, from scene to scene. It's if huge chucks of movie are missing, only those parts wouldn't do anything to help the movie, so they just cut them and hoped no one would notice. From the beginning, "Endless Love" establishes that a somewhat predictable pattern will arise in the form of "dad frowns, followed by couple's montage." Remarkably, this isn't nearly as horrid as it sounds, because the interplay and chemistry between the actors involved feels authentic and sturdy. However, "Endless Love" then commits a crime against film that no lover of cinema should ever have to endure: it gets markedly worse as it nears its culmination.
Rapid-fire plot points are thrown at the audience, a hodgepodge of supposed "tension" that any 12-year-old could see right through. If the original novel's theme was obsessive love, and the Brooke Shields film was forbidden love, then I'd say this one comes down squarely in the category of "herky-jerky plot induced waffling teen love," which isn't quite as compelling.
Some of the unevenness comes from the role Bruce Greenwood is asked to play, that of Jade's father, Hugh. He's tasked with being the reason that Jade and David can't possibly be together, while also maintaining the emotional center for the aforementioned family tragedy. This constant switch from soap opera villain to "concerned dad" to "terrible husband" to "guy working his issues out" is an impossible ask of any performer. He's playing about six parts while Jade, David and the audience all look at him with a confused apprehension. For the record, the novel and the 1981 film avoided this conundrum altogether by not having it exist, the idea that Jade's father has to be the main action verb of "Endless Love" seems to be an entirely modern (and ill-conceived) decision.
Logically, "Endless Love" also suffers greatly from a general unease with the world we inhabit. In a reality where email wasn't a thing, "Endless Love" makes a little bit of sense. In this theoretical throwback, parents have the ability to physically separate a duo they disapprove of, say their daughter and a boy from "the wrong side of the tracks," severing all ties, causing the star-crossed duo to thrash and cry to the heavens on screen. This bedrock narrative foundation, familial love vs. burgeoning romantic love, has been done for hundreds of years, but it's only in the last two decades or so that storytellers have had to make the disconnect digital as well as physical. It doesn't make much sense to throw out an occasional, "Oh, my phone was dead" or yell at a parent, "well, what did he say?!" when communication is pretty much instant and taken for granted these days. You can't have David and Jade wondering what the other is thinking to the level "Endless Love" aspires to, because any reasonable person will say, "Why wouldn't she just email/text/Facebook/tweet/telegram him?" Once that question becomes unanswerable, our patience with "Endless Love" expires.
Director Shana Feste ("Country Strong") certainly has something of note happening in her directorial style, and I look forward to seeing more from her. At its best, "Endless Love" does have moments that work, even within the montages, where it's clear there's a real affection for the characters on screen. That it's not totally dialed in throughout makes it a victim of the same thing most bad movies fall prey to: having the spark of a great idea rested awkwardly on top of a spinning mess of execution.