In picture perfect Paris, junior genius Lauren King (Diane Lane, in her film debut), who reads Heidegger and loves the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, meets similarly gifted Daniel Michon (Thelonius Bernard), a movie-mad French boy who invents his own statistical system for handicapping race horses. Fluent in each other’s languages, these two likeably precocious thirteen year olds bond over their high I.Q.s and mutual loathing of existentialism and fall in love. When Lauren’s flighty mother (Sally Kellerman) mistakenly thinks Daniel is a bad influence and forbids them seeing each other again, her kindly stepfather (Arthur Hill) decides to move the family back to America. Aided by elderly pickpocket Julius Edmond Santorin (Laurence Olivier), the kids hatch a plan to reach Venice, where according to legend if two lovers kiss under the Bridge of Sighs, at sunset, when eight bells toll, they will love each other forever.
Not many child actors can hold their own against Laurence Olivier, but Diane Lane truly sparkles here. Based on the novel, E=mc2, Mon Amour by Patrick Couvin (a pseudonym for French author Claude Klotz), A Little Romance was neither a hit at the box-office nor (surprisingly) with critics, but acquired a growing number of admirers on home video and is today considered quite a little gem. Charmed by the novel and by his young daughter’s reaction to it, director George Roy Hill develops an interesting take in that isn’t raging adolescent hormones, but a shared romantic idea that motivates the children’s journey.
There is something rather moving about their resistance not to “become like everyone else”, grow up cynical or disaffected like Lauren’s social butterfly mother, or Daniel’s cab-driver father who merrily fleeces American tourists. Precocious the child heroes may be, but they remain believable as kids, prone to childish mistakes or slight jealousies. Hill develops the love story in a way that is believably awkward, yet often more profound than many a grownup rom-com. On their first date Daniel foolishly takes Lauren to a porno movie. Having joked about her sexual experience with best friend Natalie (the endearing, brace-faced Ashby Semple), Lauren recoils in tears from her first sight of intercourse, whereupon Daniel touchingly says: “That was something different. It isn’t love.” When obnoxious film director George de Marco (David Dukes) makes a wisecrack about them having sex, Daniel defends Lauren’s honour with a hearty punch to his gut.
The like-named director is one of several in-jokes featured in the movie, including the photo of Robert Redford (from his Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) days) given to Lauren as a birthday gift, the kids decision to hide in a movie-theatre showing The Sting (1973), and a surprisingly poignant cameo from Broderick Crawford. Basically playing himself as drunk movie star who can’t recall his own films, Crawford looks to young Daniel to remind him he never acted opposite Richard Widmark. Elsewhere, there is a touch of Maurice Chevalier about the twinkle-eyed rogue played by Laurence Olivier. Critics may have been somewhat snooty about him starring in an adolescent romance such as this, but it remains one of the better films the great actor made late into his career. Julius seems genuinely charmed by the innocence of young love. There is a lovely scene where the old rogue hands himself over to the police with a flourish and submits to being slapped around so that Daniel and Lauren can share that first kiss at sunset. You may find yourself slightly teary-eyed by the conclusion and somewhat disappointed that Hill never adapted the book’s sequel, Pythagore, Je t'Adore which picks up the story several years later. It may be driven more by charm than substance, but A Little Romance really captures the excitement of being young, in love for the first time and sharing a great adventure.
American director, more at home with character than story, with a wide range of subjects under his belt. He started in television and theatre, and his first films were stage adaptations, but with The World of Henry Orient he appeared to find his voice in film. Other nineteen-sixties work included the epic Hawaii and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, but he enjoyed a monster hit with light hearted western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.