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Retro Movie Review: 'Endless Love' (1981)

One of those movies you have to see just to say you watched it, “Endless Love" tells the dramatic tale of two lovelorn teenagers and the dangerous obsession that consumes their families. Looking back at Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 adaptation of Scott Spencer’s novel through the eyes of current standards, aspects of the film have not held up well.

The overall melodramatic ambiance of the film makes it hard to take entirely seriously. Its most enduring attribute continues to be Lionel Richie and Diana Ross' eponymous theme song. As a movie, its redeeming value rests with the important discussion it provokes about teen love.

Through the looking glass “Endless Love” has valuable lessons that resonate though its purpose to shine a light on that subject is unintended. The plot centers around Jade (Brooke Shields) and David’s (Martin Hewitt) infatuation, which they swear is true love.

Jade’s parents are laid back, new agers who believe in letting their children run wild. They throw lavish parties that invite their underage kids to behave with impropriety. So, it comes as no surprise when Jade and David take their relationship to the next level: full blown physical intimacy.

Jade’s parents share vastly different reactions to this revelation. For her mother (Shirley Knight), who herself harbors a fixation on David, she finds it so exciting that she plays voyeur, living vicariously through the exploits of her 15-year-old daughter.

For Jade’s father, learning of his daughter’s activities is the wake up call he needs to begin implementing stricter parenting regulations and he promptly orders a 30-day restrictive order on contact between the young lovers. From there, David makes a rash decision out of jealous spite that damages his life and forever changes that of his family and Jade’s.

On the surface, “Endless Love” is an over the top, histrionic piece that qualifies as a slight guilty pleasure. Its atmosphere is that of an alternate universe where reasoning is thrown out of the window so unadulterated nonsense can take the helm.

Jade’s parents allow her absolute freedom and by the time her father pulls back the reins, uncomfortable with how far the situation has devolved, it is too late. While it is true that he should not be surprised by the consequences of his parenting style, it is better too late to act than never at all and his springing into action is the right move.

Lacking the support of his wife for obvious reasons (she wants David in her life any way she can have him), his son is the only one who champions and supports his father's plight, although his motivations for doing so are murky. In the world of “Endless Love,” everyone comes off a tad shady with the exception of Jade, who openly displays so much overwrought emotion, it is clear she is not holding anything back. Hardly anyone in the movie exhibits the behavior of someone acting logically or with sound rationale. They thrash around with hollow cries of sensational torment.

The implications of the film are troubling and diverge heavily from its source material’s message. David, especially when contrasted with current movie-dom, does not come across that crazy and his behavior does not translate as the antics of a pure madman. However, his actions are clearly close of someone unstable.

There is purposeful sanitizing that abounds when it comes to the characterization of his state of mind. The movie hints that his mental frailty is actually a manifestation of reactionary psychosis, as opposed to having pre-existed in dormancy. The latter of which makes more sense.

Looking back, "Endless Love" offers a key glimpse at the time’s emerging talents. James Spader in his second screen appearance brilliantly plays Jade’s smarmy brother to the hilt and a brief turn by Tom Cruise is fun to behold. As a piece of pop culture, the movie remains relevant.

In the end, “Endless Love” is not about true love. It is about obsession, teen fixation, and parental accountability. The fault with the movie rests in its belief that it is anything but. It is an infatuation story and a cautionary illustration of how the star-crossed lovers caught so firmly in romance's blinding grip can bring irreparable tragedy to those outside of their love bubble. Rating: 6.3/10