Big love…a little romance.
At his death almost one year ago, George Roy Hill left a legacy of classics including the Paul Newman vehicles The Sundance Kid and The Sting. Not long after these filmic accomplishments, he tried his hand at something different. He came across the book E=MC2, Mon Amour, by Patrick Cauvin, about a romance between two kid geniuses in Paris. He collected a highly respectable cast, the highlight of which was Sir Laurence Olivier, for the movie version, A Little Romance. Now on DVD thanks to Warner Brothers, does A Little Romance have big entertainment value?
Facts of the Case
Lauren King (Diane Lane, in her first movie role) meets Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) on the set of a big-budget movie in Paris. Daniel is a film freak—and a genius, at that. Picking up English from hours of movie-hall visits and hiding his great talents from his scummy cab driving dad, he seems the perfect match for precocious Lauren, who does things like reading up on physics—for fun. When Daniel tries to defend Lauren against snarky director George (David Dukes, Dawson's Creek) at the King household, Lauren's mother Kay (Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H) bans the two from seeing each other. Secretly, the two plan to go to Venice together and seal their love with a kiss at sunset. Aiding and abetting them is their friend Julius (Laurence Olivier), an old man who claims to be a former international figure. Before long, with their parents on their trail and Julius' true con artist ways exposed, the lovebirds race to Venice to achieve their goal.
I have always been a fan of Lawrence Olivier, one of the finest actors of his generation. Intense, concise, and penetrating, he left an artistic wake in his path that inspired the likes of Maggie Smith and Ian McKellen.
Thus, I thought A Little Romance would be a treat, showcasing Olivier toward the end of his career. Surprisingly, it's not Olivier who makes the picture, but rather, the two young stars.
Lane and Bernard portray two kid geniuses with sensitivity and truth. Their acting is excellent and alarmingly natural. Usually the "smart kid" in movies is annoying, talky, and overall unlikable, but not these two. Lane pulls off her role better than most actors twice her age.
At first a little cartoonish (if he said "Bingo!" with a wink and a point one more time, I was gonna barf), Daniel is a well-rounded kid character. He punches grownups, makes killings on horse betting, and displays guy-like petulance when Olivier bores them to tears with his stories of days past.
The story that develops has threads of reality throughout. Lauren's mother has a "friend" in sleazy director George, and her third stepfather (and counting), Richard, stands helplessly by as Mother schedules George's wrap party the day of Lauren's birthday. Thoughtless mothers and marital discord are always absorbing plot elements, and enhance the drama of this kids' romance.
As Olivier's character brings them to Venice, we see the very real undercurrents of frustration and longing in the kids' romance, without being creepy. No fondling, petting, or other gross aspects of sexuality taint their romance; rather, their kisses are closed-mouth. What's noteworthy is their occasional griping and strategizing. It's true: Love, even true love, is work at any age.
Their adventure takes the film through several twists, with a charming Ohio couple, intrepid French investigator, and hundreds of bike-riding Italian extras helping along the way. The police on their trail, Julius must decide to rise above his true con-artist ways to help the kids, and guide them to the bittersweet conclusion of A Little Romance, which was more than a little pleasurable to watch. Roy Hill switches gears from his macho style evidenced in his best-known movies and sinks easily into not-too-sweet sentiment. (Look out for a clip ofSundance Kid, though—Daniel's a fan.)
Technically, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer was lovely, if a tad bit muted thanks to the cinematography of the day. I saw some edge enhancement at the top of the picture that was slightly distracting, and some blotches and flaws in the negative. Overall, however, the picture looked just fine, if not archival-quality material. Most of the colors and black levels were accurately rendered and solid.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound mix was just okay. Audio bells and whistles are not necessary here, but the Oscar-winning score should have a little more attention. There was some slight background fuzz that I attribute to age, and crispness and clarity was lacking. Though the mix is generally clear of any excessive distortion, it's nothing to write home about. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
A Little Romance gives us a dollop of extras. Diane Lane offers a few minutes of her time for a low-budget "Remembering Romance with Diane Lane." Only a couple archival behind-the-scenes photography are cut into her interview, along with scenes from the movie, but her memories of Olivier and her very first film (hard to believe—she was quite the pro at a tender age) are engaging. Finally, we get a "Retro Artwork" slide show, of the various poster designs for the movie. Remember when posters were drawn, not photographed? These posters are surprisingly beautiful, although some description of this extra besides "Retro Artwork" would have been nice. I mean, Retro Artwork of what? Oh, movie posters. Okay. Some description on the menu and case would have been nice, that's all.
Production/Awards Notes offers some inside scoop on the shoot, including Roy Hill's decision to adapt the book and a little bit of history about the actors. It was thoughtfully written and a nice touch for film fans.
Nothing overwhelming, but for a tasteful little movie, it's hard to beat a collection of tasteful little extras—especially one scoring its Oscar-nominated star, Lane, for a sit-down.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Olivier doesn't work much into the story until midway through the film's second act, when he helps the kids enter Italy to reach their Venetian destination. Up until then he's been a heartwarming, goofy presence in the kids' lives, though Daniel doesn't trust him much. Me, I don't really like my Olivier heartwarming and goofy, and watching his eyes bug out over his fluffy moustache is a little creepy. His jokily accented character is not too real, dimensional, or truly warm. There are some sensitive moments when he goes above and beyond his con-artist self to make the difference in the success of Lauren and Daniel's adventure, but overall, I found Oliver's character to be a cartoonish weakness. Please, Sir Lawrence, don't strike me with lightning from your venerable grave—I'm a critic! I gotta be honest!
Surprisingly adult in its convictions and charming in its treatment of kid geniuses, A Little Romance is a movie that everyone can relate to. Despite the loving couple involved, there's no sex or even open-mouthed kissing—a great antidote for parents whose kids want more adult fare but don't want to bring home American Pie 2.
Olivier's creepy, but this sincere, well-acted tale is still worth a watch. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Remembering Romance with Diane Lane"
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