It’s not hard to see why some folks hold a special place in their hearts for the sensitive teen romance Jeremy, because even though it’s not a noteworthy film in any other regard, the picture treats adolescent angst with an unusual degree of respect. Further, writer-director Arthur Barron captures how all-important first love feels to the involved parties. Therefore, it’s a bit unfair to complain that the narrative of Jeremy is slight, even though that’s certainly the case—for the leading characters, romantic turbulence might as well be the end of the world. Robby Benson, appearing in one of his first movies, cements his screen persona as a blue-eyed heartthrob by playing Jeremy Jones, a cello student at a New York City performing arts school. Painfully shy and upset by his teacher’s pronouncement that Jeremy will never be a world-class musician, the young cellist happens upon Susan Rollins (Glynis O’Connor), a ballet student whose family recently relocated from Detroit to New York. The two fall in love, but then Susan’s father announces he’s moving the family back to the Motor City.
Jeremy is a small film about closely observed emotions, so there’s not much in the way of plot. Instead, Barron—who never made another feature—lets moments linger so that viewers can savor moods. His observational approach is delivered via humble production values. Since Jeremy was photographed with a rudimentary shot-design aesthetic on grainy 16-milimeter film, the movie has the texture of a documentary. Happily, the leading performers thrive in this milieu. Benson’s habits of casting his eyes downward and of speaking softly invite the viewer to peer through his outer shell to find the sweetness within. O’Connor, making her screen debut, plays only slightly brassier notes, and the pair has a warm chemistry. (They later reteamed for the 1976 release Ode to Billy Joe.)
If any major criticism could be leveled at Jeremy, it’s that Barron treats his characters too gently—there’s very little real conflict in the story. For instance, after Jeremy’s teacher (Leonardo Cimino) tells Jeremy he’s not good enough for a music career, the teacher then spends the entire following scene apologizing for being too harsh. The pervasive niceness of the movie creates a lulling sort of monotony after a while, even though many scenes are quite lovely, such as Jeremy’s performance of a difficult cello piece during a school recital. Some elements of Jeremy have aged poorly, including the film’s theme song (“The Hourglass Song”), which Benson sings on the soundtrack three different times; lest anyone forget this is a tender drama, a reminder from Benson’s achingly wispy voice is never far behind. Still, none could fault Jeremy for lacking commitment, because every frame of the movie communicates Barron’s compassionate take on teen angst.