It’s not hard to understand why the whimsically titled A Little Romance has earned a devoted following over the years—depicting the adventures of two lovestruck teenagers cavorting across Europe, the picture treats young people with respect, whereas most Hollywood movies about teenagers tend to infantilize the experience of adolescence. Moreover, the film reflects wish fulfillment on many levels, from the concept of discovering one’s soulmate early in life to the notion that children can have international escapades without being preyed upon by strangers. Plus, of course, there’s the highly appealing vibe of the picture, which emanates from Pierre-William Glenn’s silky photography and Georges Delerue’s Oscar-winning score. When the movie clicks, it’s charming. Alas, A Little Romance suffers several fundamental flaws—among other things, the story is bloated, meandering, and unbelievable.
The picture opens in Paris, where 13-year-old Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) lives a peculiar existence. His father is a sleazy cab driver who rarely provides traditional parental guidance, so Daniel finds solace at the movies. Therefore, when he stumbles across a Hollywood film shoot while on a class field trip, Daniel sneaks onto the set to watch the action. He’s beguiled by the presence of veteran actor Broderick Crawford (who plays himself in A Little Romance), but then his head is turned when he meets 13-year-old American Lauren (Diane Lane). She’s the daughter of a crew member, but she’d rather read books than watch a film being made. Impressing each other with precocious patter, Daniel and Lauren arrange to meet again, and before long the pair befriends Julius (Laurence Olivier), an aging man of mystery. As the contrived and convoluted plot unfolds, Daniel and Lauren run away from Paris with Julius as their escort, because Daniel and Lauren become infatuated with the idea of kissing under a famous bridge in Venice. According to Julius, a romantic myth says that lovers who perform this ritual will be together forever. A Little Romance also contains a sizable subplot about Lauren’s mother (Sally Kellerman), who is married, having an affair with the director of the film-within-the-film that’s shooting in Paris.
Cowritten and directed by the great George Roy Hill (who makes wink-wink references to his past by including clips from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting), this picture has precious little to do with human reality. Daniel and Lauren debate philosophy with the sophistication of college professors, the Julius character is the sort of gentleman con artist who exists only in fanciful fiction, and the thematic heart of the movie—innocent children teach world-weary adults lessons about love—is optimistic but trite. Viewed simply as straightforward narrative, this movie is annoying, overlong, and twee. Viewed as a fable, however, A Little Romance is filled with lovely textures and warm sentiments. Delerue’s gentle guitar melodies create a comforting mood, and the young leading actors give appropriately guileless performances. (This was Lane’s first movie.) So, even if Crawford’s presence is inconsequential, even if Kellerman does her usual haughty number, and even if Olivier delivers one of his campier late-career performances, A Little Romance still manages to beguile—albeit only intermittently.
A Little Romance: FUNKY
Delerue's Oscar-winning score is, in fact, mostly straight lifts from the works of Vivaldi, most notably his Concerto in D for Guitar and Strings, and especially its famous 2nd Movement. In spite of the fact that this is, essentially, an Adaptation Score and should have been a contender in that category, it somehow managed to cop the Original Score statue. I consider this to be one of the Academy's all-time biggest blunders. The award should have to Jerry Goldsmith for his career masterpiece STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, a truly monumental and ORIGINAL piece of work.
God knows I love Goldsmith -- playing his theme from "The Edge," a salute to Alaskan grandeur, over and over in my mind got me through the worst of last winter, and I look forward to more of the same -- and I'll even grant that his work for "Motion Sickness" actually managed to make it slightly less boring, no small feat. Still, to talk about the movie itself, 35 years ago I was, as Peter puts it, "beguiled," and a little more than intermittently. Diane Lane and Vivaldi -- sometimes one's needs can be that simple. Wild to think she would go on to lip-sync "Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young" at the end of "Streets of Fire," and the recent "Man of Steel" marked the first time I ever wanted to date Superman's foster mother. Yes, a Diane Lane film festival would work nicely for me.
It remains a favorite of mine from the seventies but I've been disappointed that so few people recall it at all anymore. And attempting to explain just why it's so enjoyable has very little effect.
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