(On DVD, October 2018) With a title as generic as Love Story, it’s almost unfair to complain that the film is as by-the-numbers as it can be. It doesn’t help that its premise has been absorbed in pop culture and often regurgitated in grotesque ways since then. It doesn’t help either that much of the film now sounds like melodramatic tripe to today’s audiences accustomed to a bit more substance. Of course, we weren’t there in 1970, when the movie out-grossed everything else in theatres, earned no less than an Oscar nomination, spawned a best-selling novel and a sequel. What works for one audience may not work one (or two) generations later. This being said, even despite the dubious charm of Ryan O’Neal (Ali McGraw easily out-acts him), Love Story does manage to work once in a while: The banter between the two leads becomes increasingly effective in its own sarcastic way, and by the time the famous ending strikes after being announced in the film’s first line, we’re kind of sorry for those two kids. (Although I think that most are far too quick to forgive Oliver for not telling Jenny about her illness. Or, heck, her doctor—what’s with the malpractice?) The class-warfare thing is a bit overdone (with Oliver being, frankly, a big jerk about it all) and the film’s much-celebrated “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” didn’t make sense before watching the film and still doesn’t make sense after watching it. Other movies for other times—in Love Story’s case, its success may have been its downfall: So often imitated or derided that it doesn’t look as impressive nowadays.
(On Cable TV, October 2017) For a nearly three-hour long movie from legendary director Stanley Kubrick, there is an unexpected levity to Barry Lyndon that I didn’t expect from the film’s reputation. It’s also a very unusual film in that its second half manages to completely undermine the triumphs of its first, suggesting that some characters are made to achieve success but not maintain it. Adapted from a nineteenth-century novel by William Thackeray, Barry Lyndon feels far more modern because of its somewhat satirical nature. Our protagonist spends the first section of the film stumbling and scheming himself in positions of higher power, eventually marrying rich and acquiring some measure of nobility despite a checkered past. Ryan O’Neal isn’t necessarily as charismatic as the character deserves, but there is a sense of adventure to the protagonist’s upward trajectory. The hammer hits after the intermission, as the protagonist finds himself unsuited to the work required to remain a decent noble. His mismanages his finances, alienates himself from his step-son, suffers through his son’s death, turns to alcohol and eventually loses it all. Such a narrative arc is still relatively unusual, and so Barry Lyndon remains distinctive even today. It certainly helps that it’s a film that features all of director Stanley Kubrick’s hallmarks, from stylized cinematography that still looks modern today, to an abundance of filmmaking effort that clearly shows on-screen. I thought, based on running time and subject matter, that Barry Lyndon would be an unbearable bore, but the result is far better than my expectations.