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With: Laurence Olivier, Diane Lane, Thelonious Bernard, Arthur Hill, Sally Kellerman, Broderick Crawford, David Dukes, Andrew Duncan, Claudette Sutherland, Graham Fletcher-Cook, Ashby Semple, Claude Brosset, Jacques Maury, Anna Massey, Peter Maloney
Written by: Allan Burns, based on a novel by Claude Klotz (a.k.a. Patrick Cauvin)
Directed by: George Roy Hill
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 108
Date: 04/27/1979

A Little Romance (1979)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lover's Lane

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

An adorable, whip-smart Diane Lane made her movie debut at age 13 in this absolutely delightful romance, so light of heart that it has the power to melt any cynic. She plays Lauren King, an American girl living in France with her flighty mother (Sally Kellerman) and sensible stepfather (Arthur Hill). She's somewhat ashamed of her intelligence, and tries to hide her philosophy books from prying eyes, but she's endlessly patient as her mother drags her to movie sets to watch the vulgar hack director George de Marco (David Dukes) making his latest piece of cinematic junk. (Broderick Crawford appears as himself, the star of the film-within-a-film.)

As the movie begins we meet another smart young teen, the movie-crazy French native Daniel Michon (Thelonious Bernard), who spends all day at a triple feature while figuring out ways to predict the horse races before returning home to his grumpy, American-hating, cab-driving father. Daniel and Lauren run into one another and it's a match made in heaven. While walking and talking, they accidentally meet a kindred spirit, the smooth-talking, neat old fellow Julius (Laurence Olivier). He tells the youngsters a very romantic story about kissing under a certain bridge in Venice, during a certain time of day, to ensure true love for life.

Lauren's home life becomes more and more difficult, and threatened with moving back to the United States, she dreams up a plan to run away to Venice with Daniel, and -- as a movie-loving romantic -- he's only too happy to comply. And since they need an adult to raise the money (at the tracks, of course), and cross the borders, Julius comes along too. Olivier is at his charming best here, performing with an accent and deep into character, but also warm-hearted and generous.

Director George Roy Hill made big hits (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and won an Oscar (for The Sting), but he never had much in the way of a cinematic personality; he pays tribute to his own work by showing Daniel dreamily watching those two movies. However, with A Little Romance he shows an appropriately light, appreciative touch. He knows the actors and the scenery will carry the day, and he lets them.

The movie suffers a little in the subplot concerning Lauren's mother and the comically bad film director. (David Dukes' portrayal is a bit on the broad side.) That she doesn't realize how cornball he really is drags her character down. She's so far beneath Lauren that it's difficult to see the connection between the two (Lauren is clearly closer to her stepfather than to her birth mother). But, for the sake of the story, this also makes it easier for Lauren to run away. None of this matters during the majority of the movie, where the sad, sweet combination of the young lovers and the old charmer is enough to make most hearts throb. It's best seen while cuddling with someone you love.

Lane, of course, went on to an impressive Hollywood career, while Bernard made only one other movie and decided to quit the business. He now reportedly works as a dentist. Olivier appeared in several more major films (Dracula, Clash of the Titans, The Bounty, etc.) before his death in 1989, but not before he announced to the world that, in his opinion, Lane was "the next Grace Kelly."

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