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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
A Small Circle of Friends
Directed by Rob Cohen
Key Video 1980 DVD/VHS Feature Film
One of the characters in Sara Davidson's Loose Change, a novel about the 1960s, says: "We had thought life was free and would never run out." Yet many commentators on the decade have noted that the idealism and the energy of college youth ran out quite quickly and the "liberation" they achieved in the sexual arena ended up not serving them well in their later quests for love.
A Small Circle of Friends, directed by Rob Cohen (producer of Thank God, It's Friday) and written by Ezra Sacks (FM) covers a period from 1967 through 1971 with brief flash-forwards into the present. Although the screenplay contains material on campus demonstrations, the announcement by President Johnson that he would not seek another term, the lottery draft, and the rise of the radical underground; the story is basically a tale of romance set at Harvard University.
Brad Davis literally propels the first half of the film with his charismatic screen presence. He plays the part of Leo, an aggressive, anarchistic, and egocentric journalism student who eventually woos his way into the hearts of Jessica (Karen Allen), a pretty art student from San Francisco. His best friend Mick (Jameson Parker) is a straight-arrow pre-med student who tolerates his shenanigans and affectionately supports him in his efforts to make a name for himself on campus.
Outside this small circle of friends are more trendy types: Haddox (John Friedrich) who enters college as an Eagle Scout and leaves as a radical member of the underground; Greenblatt (Gary Springer), a counterculture freak; and Harry (Craig Richard Nelson), the bookstore owner who wants to cash in on the fads of the times. These characters are colorful but seem to be emblems rather than rounded individuals.
The attractive Jessica leads Leo and Nick through a complicated sexual dance: she lives with Leo for a while, moves into a place of her own and pursues her interests in art and feminism, then sets up house with Nick, and finally suggests they all live together. The obvious comparison to the French film Jules and Jim leaves this three-dimensional relationship wanting. After tragedy strikes down Leo, the story circles around to where it began a chance encounter between Jessica and Nick in Boston during the 1970s. She's divorced and a lawyer; he's a psychiatrist and still interested in her.
Depending upon your response to the 1960s, you will love or loathe this movie. Those who go with its romanticisms are sure to surrender to Jim Steinman's dreamy music score which soars in the manner of his rock masterpiece Bat Out of Hell.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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