Only a year after the release of the controversial The Blue Lagoon, which had a fourteen year old Brooke Shields participate in nude sex scenes, came out Franco Zeffirelli’s Endless Love, which also had Shields’s unclothed form fully on display throughout large parts of the movie. Even though they contain underage nudity, both films were mainstream at the time that came out, but have since been labeled as taboo examples of exploitative cinema. As far as Endless Love is concerned, the trouble is not in the nudity, as Shields is ridiculously beautiful, but in the screenplay which strays so far from Scott Spencer’s tragic novel that it becomes ineffective. In the novel the relationship between Jade (Shields) and David (Martin Hewitt) is an one-sided obsession, but Zeffirelli, whose previous credits include some excellent love stories like Romeo & Juliet, decided that the love between the two leads should be mutual.
By simply removing the conflict that a one-sided relationship would entail, but still keeping some scenes from the book, the film becomes a spectacle of mis-matched emotions and questionable tactics on both sides of the story. David loves Jade and will do anything to have her. At one point he decides to burn down her house only to heroically save her and her whole family in the last minute, just to impress her. Of course that doesn’t work. It is a great example of young love spinning out of control. Jade’s mother Ann (Shirley Knight) disapproves of the relationship (partly because of its physicality) and tries to split them apart (shades of Heavenly Creatures?), but is endlessly unsuccessful. Their love is endless after all.
Zeffirelli seems to struggle with his characters’ attitudes as much as the audience would to understand them. David is frequently portrayed as a stalker with at least a mild psychological disorder, but that does not stop Zeffirelli from attempting to redeem his destructive actions in the end. The audience never gets an answer as to why Jade still loves him after all that he has done, and it leaves the film with an unsatisfying aftertaste. But while the film does not work well emotionally, it does contain some great acting by Shields and her supporting cast. Shields, like she always did in those days, gives it her all and her emotional performance is the reason many people have come to love this film. Even though she doesn’t show up for a long time in the film, she still carries it. Martin Hewitt, on the other hand, only looks the part, but never makes David believable. He is too over-the-top to sell his psycho persona, but is also too subdued at times for his own good. Supporting roles from such names as James Spader, Tom Cruise and Robert Altman are also done well. Actually Altman’s appearance totals less than ten seconds, but what can you do?
Technically, the film is bad, just like most 80’s films. the editing is sloppy, the score is over-the-top, and the cinematography is gritty. At least the burning house looks believable. Overall, though the film has split many viewers. People who have read the book have decided to call this one of the worst movies of all time, while others are claiming it is one of the best love stories ever told. I fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes as the film has so many flaws, especially in its storytelling, that it can’t be saved, but it also has some great moments, especially near the end when we realize that young love is tumultuous, passionate, but eventually hopeless.