Erich Segal is best known as the author of “Love Story,” the sentimental weeper starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw with the classic line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Segal, a Yale contemporary of Tommy Lee Jones and Vice President Al Gore (the film’s protagonist Oliver was supposedly based on a composite of both men), would have likely been considered the Nicholas Sparks of his day due to Hollywood’s attraction to his tragically romantic tales of love and loss.
His latest love letter (“Erich Segal’s Only Love”from Vivendi Entertainment on February 8) arrives on DVD this month and it expands upon his devotion to matters of the heart. Mr. Matthew Hiller (Rob Morrow), a driven research-based neurosurgeon receives a call from the husband of a former colleague and past love (Mathilda May) in desperate need of his revolutionary treatment for brain tumors. Hiller accepts the challenge and finds himself caught up in flashbacks to his early days in a Doctors Without Borders program and his complex relationships with this past love and his best friend (Marisa Tomei), a classically trained musician who gives up music for marriage and family.
As it crisscrosses back and forth, not only through time but also over three continents, “Only Love” explores the harsh sacrifices of life and the possibility for second chances. Morrow brings the television Everyman appeal that made him an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee for “Northern Exposure” and Oscar winner Tomei (“My Cousin Vinny”), despite the heavy handed sentimentality of the story glides through the proceedings largely on her seemingly eternal pixie charm. If you have plans to include “Only Love” as part of your cozy Valentine’s Day evening, be forewarned that the nearly three-hour length will make for a long, drawn-out affair.
On the more family-friendly end of the spectrum, comes “Clover” (Vivendi on February 22), the adaptation of Dori Sanders’s best selling coming-of-age tale about a Southern African American girl (Zelda Harris from Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn”) whose life changes dramatically when her father (Ernie Hudson) is killed in an accident on his wedding day, leaving her in the divided care of her aunt (Loretta Devine) and an unfamiliar stepmother (Elizabeth McGovern).
Although set in the late 1990s, the story views race from a jaundiced decades old perspective. Stereotypes dominate the thinking of nearly every character and situation, so much so that it is hard to believe that any Civil Rights era progress was ever made. Class considerations creep into play as well, but race proves to be the common denominator and the excuse for broad swipes that wouldn’t be out of place in the chitlin circuit work of Tyler Perry.
Speaking of Perry, it is sad to see Devine exaggerating every gesture and eye role here as if she were trying to reach audience members in the cheap seats because when given choice material, like her part in “For Colored Girls,” she certainly has the ability to sing an altogether different tune. Literal-minded approaches, in evidence in “Clover” and Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” bludgeon our sensibilities and drive us away from serious explorations of our divided pasts and the hope of true reconcilliation for the future. Clover provides pat resolutions in the place of real movement forward and strands performers like Devine and McGovern (an Oscar nominee for “Ragtime”) in the muck.
And so it seems, the search for love, in all its forms, continues. (tt stern-enzi)