Before dragging myself to the remake of Endless Love, I dipped a toe back into Scott Spencer’s novel, which I’d read (and kinda lived) in high school. What a silly idea. Apart from the title, the names of the characters, and a fire, there’s no connection between Spencer’s tortured portrait of a kid who can’t let go and this anemic, sub-soap washout of a teen pic. It’s actually worse than the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli–Brooke Shields version — which is worse than being waterboarded but at least bears some resemblance to the book and its brilliantly addled ‘70s vibe. Spencer nailed the tension between the overly permissive counterculture and the reemergence of an angry patriarch. His hero might be out of control, but he’s justifiably confused.
In this one, Jade Butterfield is played by Gabriella Wilde, a blonde with symmetrical features, wide-apart eyes, and endless stems. On the evidence of the last wretched remake she did — Carrie — she’s not a terrible actress, but the only connection she and Alex Pettyfer’s David have is that they’re reading from the same script. Both Wilde and Pettyfer are Brits, and it’s possible that they lost whatever snap they had in the course of transforming themselves into ultrabland midwestern Americans. It’s also possible that no one — Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the original Romeo and Juliet — could get blood from material this stone-dead.
Director Shana Feste was responsible for Country Strong, a.k.a. Goopster Agonistes, but even that looks good beside Endless Love. At a certain point, she must have stopped fending off stupid studio notes and shot the movie they wanted — the 100 percent inauthentic one. Graduating senior Jade — who has evidently had no boyfriend until now — prepares to leave for pre-med studies at Brown when she meets David, a valet at her posh country club. They connect in spite of the disapproval of her straitlaced, controlling father (Bruce Greenwood). David is working-class — he helps his dad (Robert Patrick) repair cars — and says he’s not going to college. But he did take the SATs. “I got a 2090,” he says, which opens Jade’s eyes even wider. As Jade drifts further from her dad, he says, “We used to talk.” He’s not all bad. It’s just that he’s still in mourning for his eldest son, a high-school star who died of cancer. Jade regards her dead brother’s picture while David looks on. “What’s it like to have lost him?” he asks. Three guesses.
The book opens with a fire, which is great emotional kindling. Banished from the Butterfield house, David has set fire to the family’s porch in the hopes that by saving them he’ll be a hero. In this Endless Love, David saves Jade from being arrested for a dumb prank, and then her dad knocks over a candle. The whole movie is on that level. And it raises the question: If you remove all dissonances from a story — to the point that it’s less offensive than a ‘70s Afterschool Special — then what the hell is left? Nada y nada y pues nada. Endless Love lives up to its name. It’s purgatory.