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Love Story

Ryan O'Neal stars as young Vice President Al Gore in this heart-rending telling of the sensitive politician's tragic love affair with a diseased spruce sapling. In truth, Erich Segal's Love Story is light on Gore but heavy on sap. "What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?," asks Oliver Barrett IV (O'Neal) in the film's opening narration. Writer Segal and director Arthur Hiller scramble over the next 100 minutes to drum up a diverting answer to Barrett's inquiry, but come up wanting. Love Story is the boilerplate for the boy-meets-girl-then-someone-dies genre. Two attractive young Ivy Leaguers (O'Neal and Ali MacGraw) from different sides of the tracks (he's the spoiled heir of a reputable blue-blood family and she's a poor, ethnic musician from a blue-collar background) engage in 20 minutes of coy and spirited banter, which eventually gives way to declarations of love and five minutes of insipid musical montage (here they play happily in the snow accompanied by perhaps the worst piece of music ever to score a film). The young couple endure insecurities and parental protestations to eventually marry, struggling pennilessly to establish themselves in the post-college world — even surviving a shocking and petty and cruel outburst by the husband, who says something to his wife that is not only totally unwarranted but also unbelievably mean and completely heartless, especially as a thing to say to his own wife, for God's sake, but which is swiftly and effortlessly patched up with the insipidly quotable line "Love means never having to say you're sorry," which is just plain stupid not to mention a bald-faced lie. And just when all is rosy, the young wife decides to have babies but ends up instead carrying a fatal disease that shows no symptoms and carries a very short lease, and even though this disease is never named, we know it has something to do with blood, but thankfully it's not an ugly disease, because this was 1970 and movie stars didn't have ugly diseases, just the kind that make you lie in bed and look wan, with none of the compulsory puking and/or bloody coughing into handkerchiefs that you see in new films, and then she dies. And what can you say about such a movie that has, 30 years later, defined such a genre, spawning such memorable classics as Dying Young, Autumn in New York, and that thing with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron, except that once O'Neal asks the opening question you know what you're in for, so you get what you deserve for watching it, which is not to say that the early banter is not lively, and that O'Neal and MacGraw do not give spirited performances with a touch of chemistry and even thankfully underplay the more precious and manipulative moments making the first hour and 10 minutes an amiable viewing experience, but still, with the cat out of the bag, so to speak, from the opening minutes, anticipatory of a certain doom, which, once it comes, is so inevitable it feels completely underwhelming and sort of boring and pretty much extinguishes any interest in what's going on. Also with Ray Milland as O'Neal's remote father, John Marley as MacGraw's sensitive father, and Tommy Lee Jones as a guy who plays cards in one scene for about 40 seconds. Love Story is remarkably well-preserved on the Paramount DVD release with a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). However, the 2.0 mono audio has some rough spots. Includes a commentary by Hiller and a retrospective documentary. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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