With Endless Love, her remake of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 adaptation of Scott Spencer’s novel, Shana Feste presents screen romance as a feature-length Abercrombie & Fitch commercial. There’s no parade of nearly nude males, but every swoony, summer-lovin’ cliché is accounted for, from lakeside fireworks and leaps off a dock to toasted marshmallows and twirls in a daisy field. Even in casting former model Gabriella Wilde as Jade, the upper-crust high school senior pining for working-class peer David (Alex Pettyfer), Feste conceivably settled on someone whose tousled blond locks could catch the sun like wheat, and who, after sneaking out to steal first-love’s kiss, could flail her alabaster limbs in a way that evokes Dirty Dancing’s swan-like Jennifer Grey.
In an early scene at a party thrown for Jade’s birthday, a convenient power outage allows Jade and David to sneak off and kiss in a closet by candlelight. Outside, as Jade’s father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), toasts his missing daughter as the “light of [his] family’s life,” the closet canoodling makes it modestly clear that she’s also the fire of David’s loins. This moment not only kicks off the classic schism between an overprotective dad and a love-struck boy from beyond the tracks, it introduces the movie’s adamantly chaste approach to sex. Like so many films of its ilk, from Top Gun to The Notebook, Endless Love obscures the sounds of lovemaking with blaring pop ballads, and when David proceeds to presumably claim Jade’s flower, the movie takes great care in depicting the tasteful removal of his (naturally) rain-soaked shirt. There are moments when Feste’s music-as-feelings technique conjures the comparable, gut responses caused by new love and sweeping music, particularly whenever Jade leaps into David’s arms to the tune of hearts-aflutter tracks. But a story can’t live by safe, base sensations alone, and Endless Love is rarely more than a low-stakes affair.
If the movie offers anything that edges close to stimulating, it’s a thin commentary on faith in fidelity, which arises when David catches Hugh cheating on wife Ann (Joely Richardson), and stirs up ghosts of David’s past that underscore his and Jade’s class differences. True, long-term love, the film suggests, is something romanticized and sought-after by the poor, while trivialized and taken for granted by the privileged (David’s zest for Jade even awakens something in Ann, who’s through masking hard truths with home décor seemingly handpicked by Nancy Meyers). There’s also the matter of Jade’s recently deceased brother, whose death still haunts the family, but whose peripheral inclusion has an ultimate significance that feels too little and too late.
Through all of this, we’re meant to gather that Jade, who chooses David over medical school, breaks out of her shell by defiantly saying yes to love. There’s even a scene in which Jade’s other brother, Keith (Rhys Wakefield), proclaims that she “[becomes] a woman” the moment she bucks Dad’s authority and insists that David is staying at the family’s immaculate lake house. However, it’s nearly impossible to feel a liberating loss of innocence in a movie so innocent by design. And for a film whose unofficial mantra is that one must “fight for love,” Endless Love seems blissfully unaware that great fights require truly substantial conflicts.