somewhat embarassedly i must admit that i didn’t even know about this film until a couple years ago. apparently i’m the only one as it did amazingly well and, along with the godfather trilogy, helped save paramount in the early 70s. strangely, the film started as a screenplay and was released as a book to promote the film, it became a bestseller before the film became a huge blockbuster (#34 of all-time, adjusted for inflation).
it’s a love story (obviously) about two young people of differing class. at the film’s opening it’s revealed that ali mcgraw is dead and the film tells the story of their love in flashback. noirs start at the end to reinforce the sense of fatality, but why does this film choose to begin with the knowledge that mcgraw will die at age 25? i think that it’s a practical demonstration of a nietzschean (think “ghost dog: the way of the samurai”) idea – we can only appreciate life if we are constantly aware of our mortality. throughout the film, the specter of death hangs over the audience’s entire experiencing of the events. we grow found of her and the relationship in spite of our knowledge that it is fleeting. this is how life is as well. further, i think that this knowledge lends a perspective that is absent in everyday life.
we grow fond of the characters and their relationship because it is real in so many ways. of course the writing buttresses this, as does the acting; and it doesn’t hurt that mcgraw is h-o-t. the opening lines, especially when matched with the main theme, are practically enough to make you cry. the writing isn’t just heavy stuff, though. there’s plenty of balance in the film – she calls him preppy, he calls her a bitch, and it’s all funny and naturalistic. because of the writing we know that this is a real relationship with real highs and lows, it’s storybook love, but if you believe in that then the film works. if you’re jaded and cynical then it’ll likely come off as trite, but that’s more your problem than the film’s.
the score was simple, but quite effective. the aforementioned opening theme adds an emotional weight to the film. what’s most interesting is to note its subtle changes as the film progresses. the most marked difference comes when o’neal leaves the doctor’s office and the theme mixes with the din of city traffic; it perfectly echoes his emotional state. great film.