Hollywood’s ongoing addiction to casting English, Irish, and Australian actors has popularized and effectively codified the accent drop, a flubbed take that is intentionally chosen over a more technically consistent one, its imperfection signaling—like a bum note or a voice crack—the authenticity of a scene. Best exemplified by Michael Fassbender, who seems to slip back into his natural Irish voice at the climax of every movie he’s in, the accent drop trades consistency for a punch of emotional reality. The effect is paradoxical, intentional on the part of the filmmakers, but unintentional on the part of the actors—a conscious act of narrative self-sabotage that’s meant to make the on-screen action seem more real.
There are two notable accent drops in Endless Love, an American teenage romance in which almost none of the main roles are played by Americans. The first is a self-referential gag, a scene where David (Alex Pettyfer) adopts a “voice” (actually Pettyfer’s real English accent) while making a prank phone call. The second comes late in the film, when David’s girlfriend, Jade (Gabriella Wilde), is arguing with her parents, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood, who, as a Canadian, doesn’t have to mask an accent) and Anne (Joely Richardson). Tears streak down Jade’s face, washing away her American accent in the process. Wilde’s performance is, for the most part, unexceptional—carried more by her physical presence, her scrunched torso and grasshopper legs, than by delivery—but goddamn if she doesn’t seem to be experiencing Jade’s feelings in that moment.
In this day and age, when major studios focus almost exclusively on genre films and sci-fi/fantasy franchise-building, a studio melodrama like Endless Love ends up feeling both novel and retro. Its handful of artful widescreen compositions—like the shot of Hugh and Anne talking before bed, standing on opposite ends of a bathroom, their faces reflected in matching mirrors—brings to mind the Hollywood of the mid-1950s. Its compartmentalized view of teenage life, fascination with sports cars and country clubs, and hyperbolic depiction of suburban class differences (David is the working-class son of a mechanic, Jade the privileged daughter of a cardiologist) seems to come straight out of the ’80s.
The plotting—significantly more tame and less convoluted than that of the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli original—is clichéd and facile, with David as the heartthrob so perfect that even his criminal record serves as proof of his moral fiber, and Hugh as the irrational hypocrite who tries to destroy David’s relationship with his daughter. And yet, like Wilde’s accent drop, the movie occasionally evidences a sense of conviction. Endless Love may rely on Reagan-era characterizations (see, for instance, Dayo Okeniyi as the comic-relief best friend or Emma Rigby as David’s conniving, froggy ex-girlfriend, who endlessly twirls her ponytail between her fingers), and its characters’ motivations may be so simplistic that they seem unreal. But the film also contains fleeting moments of authenticity. Most of these come courtesy of Robert Patrick, who plays David’s father, and Greenwood. Together, these two veteran actors turn could-be-thankless “good dad/bad dad” roles into credible depictions of wounded masculinity. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t about them.