While it’s in some ways a well-intentioned film about the worthy subject of how participating in civil disobedience as college students during the late ’60s impacted the students’ later lives, A Small Circle of Friends is a textbook example of Hollywood bludgeoning complex ideas into simplistic scenarios. A Small Circle of Friends mostly concerns a contrived romantic triangle. Nick Baxter (Jameson Parker) is a conservative golden boy pursuing a medical degree, Leonardo DaVinci Rizzo (Brad Davis) is a trouble-making lefty student journalist, and Jessica Bloom (Karen Allen) is the sensitive artist caught between them.
Ezra Sacks’ story is sufficiently eventful and specific to avoid seeming completely trite, but his basic premise is so obvious—a clash between activism and conformity—that the movie becomes laughably schematic. Here’s a scene about drugs! Here’s a campus riot! Here’s a triumphant moment of sticking it to the uptight college power structure! Oh, and because you knew this was coming, here’s the tastefully understated ménage-a-trios scene! Sacks’ screenplay seems more like a to-do list than a proper narrative. Most of the picture unfolds on the rarified grounds of Harvard and Radcliffe. Nick sympathizes with the antiwar movement, but mostly remains focused on his studies. Leonardo is a wild child determined to change the world one article at a time. He’s also a brazen prankster, so during his introductory scene, he feigns blindness as a way of cutting in line while registering for classes. The idea is that Nick becomes fascinated by Leonardo’s zest for life, while Leonardo secretly respects Nick’s diligence. As for Jessica, she dates Leonardo first, then switches to Nick, and complications ensue.
Just as Sacks’ script tends toward superficiality, Rob Cohen’s direction is impatient, as if he’s afraid of lingering on human emotion. Not helping to alleviate this problem are the leading men. Davis has a spacey quality, so he seems crazed rather than eccentric, and Parker is hopelessly bland. Allen is uminous, though she’s asked to spend far too much time gazing in wonder at her costars. (Actors playing smaller roles include Shelley Long and Daniel Stern.) Perhaps the weirdest aspect of the picture is the score, composed by rock songwriter Jim Steinman, best known for writing Meat Loaf’s hits. To date, this is the only movie he’s scored, and his music is hilariously overwrought. Some of the melodies are familiar, as well, because tunes he wrote for this movie later became Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
A Small Circle of Friends: FUNKY