[17 February 2014]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
“There was a girl,” murmurs David (Alex Pettyfer), “a beautiful girl surrounded by people, yet totally alone.” As he speaks, you see exactly what he describes, a blond, tanned, slow-motiony and willowy supermodel of a girl, Jade (Gabriella Wilde), wearing a graduation gown and surrounded by her fellow high school graduates, looking sad and probably a little alone.
No matter how Jade might be feeling, judging from this bit of distance, the first scene in Endless Love is not about her, but about David. He’s wanted to talk to her throughout their four years of high school, he says, and just never found a right moment. His best black friend Mace (Dayo Okeniyi) shows up just now in order to underline the fate David’s writing for himself, tossing his arm over David’s shoulder (as he will do several more times in the movie going forward), gently mocking his affection for this rich girl who’s also “an ice queen.” Undeterred, David holds faith that Jade’s chilly affect is only a sign of her loneliness, a sign that he needs to save her.
Of course you know that David will get his chance and that he’ll be right about her. And soon they’ll be dancing and laughing, gamboling in sunlight and riding in convertibles, and having sex in front of a fireplace, glamour-lit close-ups making her first time seem perfectly warm and sweetly ecstatic. And of course you know that David will run into an obstacle or two, primarily in the form of Jade’s dad, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), who’s not only protective and ambitious when it comes to his med-school-bound trophy of a daughter, but also still mourning the death of her brother Chris, from a cancer that Hugh, a doctor himself, blames himself for not curing.
David, being a decent kid with a mechanic for a dad (Robert Patrick), takes on this challenge with an almost admirable naiveté, thinking that he might win over Jade’s father by fixing the dead brother’s car that’s been sitting in the fancy mansion driveway since he died. He doesn’t see that the dead car is a metaphor, that replacing the carburetor and revving the engine is actually a terrible affront to Hugh, who also keeps the dead son’s room as a kind of shrine, where neither Jade nor her other brother Keith (Rhys Wakefield) is allowed to tread, much less play a record album (no CDs in this apparently retro universe, based on Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel, sort of via Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 movie).
Hugh’s horror at such infractions of his rules is compounded when he learns the overarching plot, that David’s endless love is usurping the authority of his endless love (for Chris), despite his awesome SAT scores, hopes only to fix cars and love Jade for the rest of his life. Hugh glowers during a toast to love encouraged by his wife Ann (Joely Richardson), who encourages Jade’s first love because… you know this is coming… her husband has abandoned her emotionally, a point made by yet more metaphors, including a frightening scene where she speaks to Hugh while sitting on a stairwell, obscured by banister bars and their dark shadows that ensure you know just how she feels.
This overstatement makes a kind of sense in a movie all about men’s desires projected onto girls, or more precisely, projected onto one girl, Jade. You might also expect that a movie so immersed in these desires that it doesn’t allow Jade any of her own: you see her as her father or her boyfriend see her, lovely in a red party dress or a see-throughish nightgown, running or swimming, sleeping or insisting that she and David go along with Mace and a bunch of nameless other kids crew on a completely bad idea of an adventure, breaking into the zoo and harassing the animals.
This is not to say that the black best friend is the cause of trouble, exactly, but it is to say that Mace’s bad idea leads directly to a crisis, wherein all of David’s projecting onto Jade, his telling of her story and his shaping of her expectations turn to a kind of chaotic mush and, for a moment anyway, she thinks maybe he father is—however briefly—more right than David in setting her life’s direction. It’s important for David’s eventual rightness that Mace is at least partly responsible for the crisis, though David is partly responsible too, owing to his own working class background and his own cheating mom (a long story that’s wholly uninteresting), and also his not-quite-done-enough relationship with a kind of psycho ex (Emma Rigby).
It may be that a tragic or maybe just short-sighted David has been reborn through his romance with Jade, much as she has been awakened from her dead-brother-oppressive-father funk. But given that the film invests so much in his storytelling as a means to free the girl, his loss of control over the narrative is at once unnerving and, in a weird way, inevitable. After much havoc and heartbreak and a hospitalization too, David does finally stop narrating. But here’s the rub: when Jade starts, she only says what he’s already said.