“You’re a preppy millionaire, and I’m a social zero.”
A music student at Radcliffe (Ali MacGraw) falls for a preppy Harvard law student (Ryan O’Neal) whose wealthy father (Ray Milland) disapproves of their marriage and cuts off O’Neal’s inheritance. The beautiful newlyweds live a poor but happy life — until devastating news about MacGraw’s health rocks their world.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Ali MacGraw Films
- Cross-Class Romance
- Death and Dying
- Flashback Films
- Ray Milland Films
- Ryan O’Neal Films
- Tommy Lee Jones Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Erich Segal’s screenplay” — “boy-meets-girl-and-marries-girl-who-then-becomes-terminally-ill” — was turned down by several studios who claimed “it was too superficial, too syrupy, too pure”, but then picked up by Paramount Studios, which “realized those weren’t necessarily negative characteristics” and subsequently “made a fortune”. He notes it’s “more stylish but less substantial than the old-style weepies it emulated”, and asserts that it “strives for honesty and simplicity at the expense of theme or characterization”. He goes on to describe the film’s popularity (it was number one at the box office that year, and broke records) by noting that “the opening line, which tells us that the girl (Ali MacGraw) has died, is enough to start the tissue parade”, with the entire flashback story “pointed toward her dying (from some unmentionable disease).” He writes that “as the ill-fated couple, MacGraw and O’Neal” (inappropriately nominated for Oscars) “seem intent only on building their own images — there is no sincerity in their performances.” He adds that “how their characters fall in love, or why they love each other so much, is unclear”: “they are too dull, arrogant, and full of false humility to be anything but competitors” and “they come across as beautiful people who could have won each other on The Dating Game“. He concludes by assuring us that “the number of tears viewers shed shouldn’t be mistaken for a measure of approval.”
Peary’s review is spot-on, leaving little to add. These characters are good-looking but shallow and unappealing. O’Neal’s rocky relationship with his father (Milland, trying his best with limited material) feels petulant rather than righteous, and O’Neal’s bond with her salt-of-the-earth father (Oscar-nominated John Marley) isn’t explored in any depth. MacGraw’s all-in-fun name-calling (“preppy”) and both characters’ profanity-laced “verbal volleyball” (“Listen, you conceited Radcliffe bitch…”; “Look, it’s not an official goddamned threshold.”) was considered shocking at the time, but now is simply tiresome to listen to. MacGraw’s unnamed illness (referred to as leukemia in the source-novel) leaves her looking infamously hearty, hale, and lovely till the very end. The film’s famous line — “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” — is both incorrect and inane. In his review, Peary neglects to mention Francis Lai’s uber-famous title song, which is lovely but overused to such an extent that it begins to feel manipulative.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine cinematography
No, unless you’re curious to check it out given its popularity.