With the death recently of director George Roy Hill, we lose yet another great filmmaker, one who wasn't afraid to entertain his audience with a good story, likeable characters, and a little schmaltz. There's a lot of such stuff involved in "A Little Romance," one of his several trifling but amusing romantic comedies.
"A Little Romance" was directed by Hill in 1979, written by Allan Burns, and stars Sir Laurence Olivier and Diane Lane among others. You remember Mr. Hill from his superb handling of child actors in "The World of Henry Orient" (1964) and his deft direction of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) and "The Sting" (1973). Allan Burns is responsible for such TV hits as "Get Smart" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Sir Laurence hardly needs an introduction, and Diane Lane has most recently favored us with an outstanding performance in "Unfaithful" (2002). Together, they produce a delightful combination.
The movie evokes a little romance for everyone, but mainly it's the romance of its two young leads that matters most. What are the odds, the story asks, of anybody's finding the one person in the whole world who's perfectly matched for you? It's a story of young, impetuous, and probably perfectly matched love at first sight, a Romeo-and-Juliet story properly set in, among other places, Verona, Italy. It's a lovely tale of pure and innocent love and the lengths that people involved in such a love will go to in their desire to ensure it. The movie can hardly fail to please even the most jaded audiences.
Lust is in the body, romance in the mind. I don't know where I heard that, but it applies to the film. In deference to the early teen years of its two leads, "A Little Romance" makes only a couple of teasing, fleeting references to sex, as the young people, aged thirteen, ponder the subject while in an art museum and later flee an adult-movie theater after a moment's uncertainty. Instead of being related to sex, the PG-rated story concentrates on a simple, direct love that transcends corporal attraction.
Not that either of the principals isn't an attractive person. Diane Lane is lovely as the girl, Lauren, whose stepfather, Richard (Arthur Hill), is a wealthy businessman and whose mother, Kay (Sally Kellerman), is a dragon lady. The boy, Daniel (Thelonious Bernard), is equally handsome and appealing as Lauren, but his father, a taxi driver, causes Lauren's mother some anxiety. The kids meet in Paris, where Lauren's American family is temporarily living and Daniel is a native. They are meant for each other: They're both bright and precocious--gifted, in fact--and they both read existential philosophy. Now, if only they were a little older and Lauren didn't have such a narrow-minded mother....
Anyway, the romance would probably go nowhere if it weren't for the assistance of an elegant, aristocratic-appearing old French gentleman, Julius (Olivier). The kids run into him in a park when Daniel accidentally kicks a ball into his stomach and knocks him over! Julius loves telling stories, of which he has an endless repertoire, and introduces himself as a former ambassador to Lichtenstein. Before long, he's explaining to the youngsters the legend of Venice's Bridge of Sighs, that if you kiss under the bridge at sunset as the bells of the campanile are ringing, your love will last forever. Naturally, the young lovers determine to run away to Venice and do just that, and they trick Julius into helping them. The kids are smart enough to realize that they will eventually be caught and brought back, but they're willing to chance this one, big, romantic adventure together.
The movie is based on the novel "E=MC2, Mon Amour" by Patrick Cauvin, and, as I've said, it provides a dose of romance for everyone involved. The young people get what they're looking for, certainly, but so does Julius, who may not be all he appears, and even Lauren's stepfather, who learns to take a stronger stand in his own marital relationship.
Smaller roles are nicely filled out by Ashby Semple as Natalie, Lauren's garrulous best friend; Graham Fletcher-Cook as Londet, Daniel's young cosmopolitan buddy; David Dukes as George De Marco, a tacky director of even tackier action films; and actor Brodrick Crawford as himself.
Most of the film is a chase, but isn't that how most romantic comedies unfold? The parents think their kids have been kidnapped by the old man, yet mistaken intentions are an age-old tradition in these things. Olivier's part is one of many such old timers he played in his final years, his French accent slipping into something approaching German and Italian at times, but his demeanor is always engaging. The movie's climax comes in Venice amidst spectacular scenery, and who could ask for more?
If it all seems too cloyingly sweet or sentimental, be aware that director Hill never allows the movie to slip into outright bathos, never makes a false move into the mawkish or the teary-eyed, except perhaps at the very end, where we expect such things from a romance. What's more, the director has a good time referencing his own movies, having the kids in the story watching "Butch Cassidy" and "The Sting," a minor in-joke that adds to the film's appeal. In all, "A Little Romance" is a charming family film that holds up well over time.
The picture quality is nothing short of excellent and well highlights the virtue of the settings. The screen size measures a generous 2.13:1 anamorphic ratio across a normal television and presents colors and vistas that due justice to the beauty of the Paris, Verona, and Venice landscapes. The image is sharply delineated, with bright, deep hues set apart by even deeper blacks. There are some instances of minor line variations, and occasionally the picture seems to be slightly soft and light, but in the main the picture is gorgeous and the settings spectacular.
One wishes for something more all-enveloping that the simple Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack the film provides, but it's good, clear, clean mono, nonetheless. It's perfect for dialogue, and this film is about dialogue and not loud crashes and helicopter flyovers, after all. The sound is quiet, as it should be in a film of this vintage, with no background noise, and plucked strings are particularly realistic. There's not a lot of frequency or dynamic range involved, but, then, not a lot is needed. The film won an Oscar for its Original Score (George Delerue), and, needless to say, the music comes across with perfect clarity if little breadth.
It's a little film so there aren't a lot of extras involved in its packaging. The single most important item is a seven-minute segment called "Remembering Romance" wherein star Diane Lane reminisces about her role in the movie, especially remembrances of her costar, "Sir Larry." Next, there's a brief series of poster art from the film called "Retro Artwork." Then, there are a few text notes on the film's production and awards, a cast and crew listing, thirty scene selections, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. English is the only spoken language included, but there are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
"A Little Romance" is a remarkably sweet and gentle film. It conjures up youthful memories of everyone's first love, makes us cheer for the youngters to succeed, and practically invites us to conjecture what may eventually become of the young protagonists. But, of course, we all know the answer to that: They go on to find one another again and live happily ever after. It's a little of the romantic in me. Thank you, Mr. Hill, for all of your work.