Love Story (dir. Arthur Hiller, 1970) – Two people of different backgrounds fall in love, whilst attempting to get through life’s challenges.
Love Story begins at its end, revealing its eventual tragedy in its very first line, “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?” The opening is as honest as they come, blatant in its revelation of the melodrama that is to unfold. It is a guileless love story that is what it is, a story about romance till death do them part.
Before the inadvertent tragedy, these star-crossed lovers are first separated by their two different worlds. Oliver Barrett (Ryan O’Neal) is a wealthy lad from Harvard, in love with aspiring musician Jenny Cavelleri (Ali MacGraw) from a working class family. When his father objects, he chooses to walk out on his family and wealth, crumbling an already fragile father-son relationship.
The wedding bells soon ring. Oliver begins to build his second life with his newfound family, while Jenny supports him through law school. They live and squabble in love, before a terminal illness threatens their happy marriage.
Things goes exactly one expects them to. Formulaic by today’s standards, this 1970 classic has once been hailed as the inspiration behind the modern “chick flick”. This is where it had all begun, laying the groundwork for the likes of A Walk to Remember and The Notebook to induce tears in the hardest of souls.
But years may have laid waste to the emotional prowess of the Best Picture nominee, which now feels admittedly dated. Its simplicity pales in the the present-day genre landscape that values more depth and proximity to our grounded reality.
While terminal illnesses can happen, it (thankfully) is never as common place as the intrinsic troubles of the modern narrative. We relate more to the troubles that we have control over, but choose not to. It is the falling out of love in Blue Valentine, the struggling with commitment in Before Midnight, and the letting go of mistakes in Once.
In contrast, Love Story is less moving than it once was, falling victim to changing times. Even so, the Academy Award for Best Score remains a much merited Oscar for composer Francis Lai, whose tender notes prove a truly timeless theme.
The father of tragiromance has not aged well, but is owed a massive debt by the slew of tearjerkers that followed in his footsteps.