“Should I take off my shoes or somethin’?”
If this year’s Valentine’s hopeful Endless Love does anything right it’s that it doesn’t sweat the small stuff. The crucial moment that fractures any chance of David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) winning the approval of his girlfriend Jade Butterfield’s (Gabriella Wilde) father Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) comes as a result of petty jealousy. The kids are moonlighting after hours (read trespassing) at the local zoo when one of the group phones the cops because “boohoo” she isn’t getting any loving. Rather than waste time addressing this treason with some huge blowout, though, screenwriters Shana Feste (who also directed) and Joshua Safran rightfully let it fade into the background so the real issue of how David, Jade, and Hugh will react takes point. Sadly, the big stuff is so in-your-face that you wish some small stuff could let you breathe.
The romance is suffocating in its heavy-handedness whether the tragedy in both the Butterfields and Elliots’ pasts, the sickeningly sweet love affair of our leads, or the eventual fire that will cleanse each soul. You want to punch everyone in the face besides the gorgeous Wilde who deftly portrays the innocent shyness of a high school bookworm recluse turning into a butterfly of sexual awakening and life itself once exposed to human contact from someone who doesn’t share her last name. Her plight truly is hard—living up to her father’s expectations to takeover his legacy now that her older brother is dead; accepting not having friends because extra studying means a spot at Brown; and of course being a hardworking, intelligent, hot, teen blonde with a ton of money.
Conversely, David is so desperately painted as a meathead from the wrong side of the tracks yet constantly proves to be the kindest, most empathetic character in the whole film. You’re supposed to pity his rough life and rejoice in Jade’s pulling him out of it, but it’s impossible to do so after learning he scored crazy high on the SATs, respects women to a fault, and would do anything for those he loves. Put this guy in another movie with the exact same background and he’s a catch any girl would be lucky to win. But he has a temper, hangs with the “partying” crowd, and risks taking Daddy’s Little Girl away. Hugh can’t handle losing another child even though he’s so obviously lost his entire family due to his never-ending mourning. So he decides to ruin David’s life too.
Based upon Scott Spencer‘s novel of the same name (previously adapted in 1981 with Brooke Shields), it’s a far cry from the very dark and melancholy trajectory of his original work. Talk about pilfering what appears to have been something with substance and authenticity—despite probably being overwrought in a completely different way—into a bubblegum fantasy of pretty rich people enduring a crippling bout of survivor’s guilt. Not only does changing the ages from young teens to high school graduates lower the stakes by removing a key component in allowing Hugh the totalitarian control he thinks he wields, it turns the “sordid” love affair into a rather appropriate example of a healthy relationship. Rather than be about kids fighting to stay together, Endless Love becomes solely about a mentally distraught father who’s lost his way.
Is that what you bought your ticket to see? I didn’t think so. You came for a shirtless Pettyfer and a bikini-clad Wilde (who shows more skin swimming than in a hair-covered sexual encounter that’s awkwardly shot and anything but sensual) sharing stolen glances and genuine smiles. She’s completely likeable as the wholesome girl next door despite her family’s outlandish wealth and he’s surprisingly endearing even if he can’t avoid falling into wooden blandness when made to act in silence for the camera. And if the film remained about them it may have worked on some small level—whether steeped in checkout line romantic bliss or turning deadly like I’ve read the book did. Using them as pawns for a man’s unhealthy catharsis after giving everything for his family, however, removes any spark.
That means a solid supporting cast is wasted too, whether Joely Richardson‘s vibrancy as Jade’s mother Anne, Rhys Wakefield‘s cynical wit as the young girl’s brother Keith, or the scene-stealing hilarity of David’s best bud Mace (Dayo Okeniyi). These three are the film’s saving grace, injecting depth where the script’s plot failed. Add in Robert Patrick‘s completely against type Mr. Elliot and you have one more example of good people being persecuted and disappointed by Greenwood’s angry, vengeful, and selfish Hugh. No matter how justified his patriarch is in wanting to keep his daughter and David apart, Hugh crosses the line between overbearing and absurd in frame one. Well-meaning went out the window long before the movie begins; his transforming into a bona fide villain complete before his carefully laid plans start to unravel.
It’s all too neat to care and in the end Jade is only a few months from eighteen and the freedom to wrest herself away from the chaos endured for two long years of voluntary isolation anyway. The mirroring between she and her mother, David and Hugh, David and/or Jade with the deceased Butterfield son Chris, or Hugh and Mr. Elliot is so unforgivably on-the-nose that you must wonder whether Feste and Safran thought they were being smart. Hugh becomes too evil and David too saintly to believe the former may have a point and we find ourselves hoping everyone escapes his clutches by leaving him for dead emotionally and/or physically to officially move on. There’s never any question that love might not prevail and that only makes the exercise itself a very boring chore.
 GABRIELLA WILDE as Jade and ALEX PETTYFER as David in “Endless Love”, the story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart. Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert Copyright: © 2014 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
 Hugh (BRUCE GREENWOOD) refuses to listen to his wife, Anne (JOELY RICHARDSON), in “Endless Love”, the story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart. Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert Copyright: © 2014 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
 (L to R) Mace (DAYO OKENIYI) and his best friend, David (ALEX PETTYFER), in “Endless Love”, the story of a privileged girl and a charismatic boy whose instant desire sparks a love affair made only more reckless by parents trying to keep them apart. Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert Copyright: © 2014 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.