A LITTLE ROMANCE - AMC's Academy 6, K-B, Georgetown Square, State, Springfield Mall Cinema 6, Tenley Circle.
For next year's awards, we are creating a new subdivision of the So Bad It's Fun category. Early as it is, this category already has many splendid contenders, such as "hurricane" and "The Passage," for the film that produces the most audience giggles in the most unlikely places.
In an intended sentimental comedy, for instance, the laughs must be produced by the sentiments, rather than the comedy. This should be indulgent, rather than hostile, amusement, caused by inadvertent revelations of the filmmakers' mentality.
It was inspired by Laurence Olivier's acceptance speech for the special Oscar he won this year for being the world's finest actor of our era, just before he lost the race for being the best actor of last year. The sweet outpouring of poetic words, stuck in the brain after a lifetime of reciting the words of poets and put together without any meaning, was an endearing example of this sort of achievement.
And Olivier's new film, "A Little Romance," is the strongest entry so far in the category. It's not just his performance, as a pixyish old pickpocket spouting nonsense, however, but the film as a whole. It was directed by George Roy Hill and produced by Yves Rousset-Rouard and Robert L. Crawford, from a book by Patrick Cauvin with the perfect-but-awful, as well as perfectly awful, title of "E=mc2, Mon Amour."
The intentional comedy in the film always seems on the verge of working, but then is quickly bludgeoned to death. At an Italian bicycle race, the starting gun fails, and presiding priests have to shoo the bicycles back into line; the visual humor of this disorder dissolves in the dopiness of a priest's falling over because he was shot by the harmless gun.
Several of the actors have genuinely satirical approaches to characters who are too weighted with cliches to allow lightness, Sally Kellerman as what used to be called a "socialite," Claudette Sutherland as a polyestered tourist and Ashby Semple as a schoolgirl drooling through her braces could, one feels, have done something with fresher portraits of these stereotypes.
Olivier seems to personify Maurice Chevalier's "alternative." You may remember that when Chevalier was asked on an advanced birthday how he liked being that old, he replied, "When I consider the alternative, I like it."
The young romancers of the title are a particularly unattractive French boy, Thelonious Bernard, as the son of a dishonest taxi driver, and Diane Lane as a rich American girl. It's an interesting commentary on the theory of untutored, born actors that she, who at 14 has eight years of acting experience, can act tolerably, while he, who was "discovered" in a soccer field at 15, can't.
The affinity of these characters is based on a two-second conversation in which they both use the name of Heidegger, thus establishing themselves as tiny intellectuals. They do not then discuss philosophy, or anything else, for the matter. What they mostly say is "That's fantastic!" and "Incredible!"
However, the Filmmakers' philosophy is clear:
Anyone who isn't crazy about motion pictures isn't fully alive.
A gentleman is someone who treats his child like an adult and wife like a child.
Children who like pornography are honest; adults who like partying are phonies.
Being a pickpocket is a lovable occupation; being a corporation executive is suspect.
Statements such as "Are any of us so blameless?" "I don't want us to be like everyone else - we're different' and "It was only an attempt to bring a little romance in my life" mean something. CAPTION: Picture, THELONIOUS BERNARD, LAURENCE OLIVIER AND DIANE LANE IN A SCENE FROM "A LITTLE ROMANCE."