Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.
Every week I get a little bit nearer completing the massive list of Oscar movies, or completing the list as much as I ever will. Today is noteworthy in one important respect: A Little Romance is the final movie I needed to watch from the 1970s. I’m officially done with every movie from 1970 through 1986. It’s strange to be done with a decade, but it also feels like a long, slow exhale. I could have only wished for a movie I ended up liking a little more than this one. In truth, I liked this ultimately in spite of itself.
It is at the very least aptly named. Our romance here is between 13-year-olds, and while it is something reads very much like an idealized romance between kids, it’s also pretty chaste (as it should be, honestly). It’s also going to take us a long time (roughly half the movie) to get where we’re going. The quick and dirty is that Lauren (Diane Lane in her first role), an American living in France and Daniel (the awesomely-named Thelonious Bernard) meet cute and fall for each other. In their outings, they run into Julius (Laurence Olivier), who takes a shine to them both and tells them stories, including a legend that a couple who kiss in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice while the bells are ringing will be forever in love. When Lauren’s mother (Sally Kellerman) decides that Daniel is a bad influence, Lauren and Daniel decide to run away to Venice with Julius’s help, which naturally leads to the authorities believing Julius has kidnapped the kids. And all of this happens because Lauren’s step-father has decided to move back to the States.
There are some interesting subplots going on here. For instance, it’s soon evident that Lauren’s mom has some real commitment issues. Her current husband (Arthur Hill) is at least her third; Lauren calls him Richard because she says that it’s easier to lose a Richard than another daddy, and she’s already lost two of those. She appears to be in the market for another husband as well despite her current husband’s wealth. While he runs his company, she spends her time with George de Marco (David Dukes), a director working in Paris. It’s an odd thing to have on the fringes of the main story here.
There are also things that are mentioned but never really capitalized on. We learn that Daniel’s father is a cab driver who hates Americans, but we never learn why and the man isn’t in the film much anyway. During their trip to Venice, Lauren, Daniel, and Julius hitch a ride with an American couple (Andrew Duncan and Claudette Sutherland), who appear to exist solely to be punchlines about the “Ugly American” in Europe, since all they do is complain about everything and ask about how much things cost.
I have to admit that I started out disliking A Little Romance a great deal, and much of that came from the characters of Lauren and especially Daniel. Both of them are precocious in that movie-precocious-kid way. While her mother fawns over her director boy-toy on the set of his movie, she sits by herself reading Heidegger. When Daniel discovers what she’s reading, he asks her why she’s still bothering with Heidegger because of course he’s already read it. He’s also a movie nerd, and in a way that’s not endearing, even to another movie nerd.
Despite this, the kids eventually win me over. In part this is because of the presence of their two best friends, Natalie (Ashby Semple) and Londet (Graham Fletcher-Cook) who manage to be more annoying individually than Lauren and Daniel are as a team. And, as the movie progresses, I eventually learned to like Lauren. Daniel remains pretty annoying because he seems to be moving toward a sort of alpha male opinion of himself, upset when anyone does anything he didn’t predict or any time he feels slighted. Honestly, I think Lauren can do better.
Truthfully, A Little Romance borders very close to magical realism in the way that everything plays out. This isn’t surprising. We have kids that we’re clearly supposed to be rooting for and a kindly old man who turns out to have some interesting secrets that we want to root for as well. They’re ultimately in a race against time and the authorities, and the movie is geared toward them getting what they want, since that’s what we’re supposed to want as well.
In the end, we kind of do, or at least I kind of did. A Little Romance works well enough that I ended up liking it.
Why to watch A Little Romance: It’s cute in spite of itself.
Why not to watch: Precocious kids are annoying.