I have no doubt one day director and co-writer Shana Feste will make a truly compelling masterpiece about the “New South.” Her previous feature, Country Strong, was entertaining without breaking any new emotional ground. Feste’s latest film, Endless Love, adapted from the same Scott Spencer novel as Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 film, seems to be an over-simplification that proves the complex notion of “love” is hard to make cinematic.
Transplanting the story from Upstate New York to the “New South,’ the story is a simple tale: middle-class boy David (Alex Pettyfer) falls for wealthy girl Jade (Gabriella Wilde) and her dad Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) objects. In Zeffirelli’s film, David’s parents were aristocrats who had debates; here, the political themes are muted in favor of aspirational entertainment for middle-class teenage girls. As visually appealing as a run-of-the-mill Nicholas Sparks adaptation, Endless Love is often little more than an ad for the J. Crew lifestyle, superficial, yet occasionally effective and engaging.
Credit is to due to the leads Pettyfer and Wilde, who are emotionally conditioning despite just how difficult this material is. Wilde actually has to say, ‘you don’t fight for love, you’re terrified of love,’ and make it sound convincing at exactly the point you’d expect her to say it. And she almost pulls it off.
The love story arrives on time, following the basic structure of a Sparks novel, which is that two good-looking people cannot be together for some artificial reason, usually involving a corrupt system or a misleading fact, but a more interesting face-off between Hugh and David occurs. Greenwood adds a darker, compelling psychological element that transcends the lame text. As a cardiologist who doesn’t like David on general principal, once he finds the missing clue his reason seems even lamer. If only Feste let Greenwood run wild the film would have been more engaging.
I do realize I’m not the audience for Endless Love. The demographic is teen girls, who, if they are unfamiliar with the source material (of which there is plenty), may be on the edge of their respective seats. With decent performances and the occasional strong moment, I laughed and cringed at times, but truth be told, it was never dull. Like fast food, Endless Love feels engineered to satisfy in the moment without providing any sort of nutritional value.
Endless Love opens on Friday, February 14th in wide release.