Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jeremy (1973, Arthur Barron)

Arthur Barron's Jeremy is an uncomplicated, universal story of first love. A "little movie." But, it's one that gets me every time I watch it. I first read about it in Danny Peary's Guide for the Film Fanatic when I was in high school, but it was late to home video and I didn't see it until it debuted on VHS in the late '90s. I just caught up with it again on DVD. I was and remain struck by the film's very mature, honest portrayal of the first time two people fall in love, perfectly capturing just how life-changing and important a moment it is for those involved. At the same time, it shows how fleeting and painfully abrupt these events can be. Like some of the best films of its era, it's somewhat gritty and, within the coming-of-age genre, it's more authentic than those of the next generation--the young actors here look like real kids and not the overly pretty young things that have populated most teen films and tv shows of the last two decades.

Jeremy is a gifted young cellist and sophomore at a New York performing arts high school. He's a shy kid, a little goofy, sensitive, and socially awkward. Susan is a transplant from Detroit. A dancer, she's pretty, independent, has a wisdom beyond her years, and a palpable sadness due to the loss of her mother when she was a young child. Jeremy is smitten the moment he sets eyes on her.

The film was shot in 16mm and mostly hand-held giving it an admirable level of docu-realism. At times, though, the limitations of budget and the filmmakers' lack of experience, reveal themselves in the form of some ragged cinematography and abrupt editing. Some of the writing and supporting performances strike me as tv-movie caliber. While so many current American films overstay their welcome, Jeremy feels a little rushed at times, particularly in its conclusion.

However, I think the movie more than overcomes these shortcomings. Major credit must be given to young stars Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor who actually were the age of the characters they portrayed and became a real-life couple for a time. They clearly believe in the material. Fresh, uninhibited, mature, winning, charming. These are superlatives casually tossed about by fawning critics, but they really do apply to the performances here of Benson and O'Connor. Benson has never been taken very seriously as an actor, but he perfectly plays the awkwardness, uncertainty, and discomfort inherent in Jeremy when he tries to talk to Susan for the first time and even after their relationship has progressed. It's easy to root for this kid to win the affections of Susan. O'Connor's Susan is adorable, speaks her mind with assurance, and has an innate sweetness; it's no wonder that Jeremy would fall for her and that O'Connor would go on to fame as a teen star throughout the rest of the '70s.

There is a good amount of humor sprinkled throughout the film, but writer-director Barron and his young stars treat the courting and love scenes seriously and with an appropriate level of earnestness. To its credit, the film doesn't hold back in showing Jeremy and Susan consummate their love, something I don't think would fly in a PG movie these days.

Benson and O'Connor even sing the film's love themes on the soundtrack--"Blue Balloon (The Hourglass Song) and "Jeremy"--something today's young audiences would probably scoff at and one of the aspects that place this film firmly in the early '70s. Being a fan of pop songsters of the era like Paul Williams (who later provided music for Benson's One on One and O'Connor's The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), I love these heartfelt ballads and the way the film uses them to underscore the feelings of Jeremy and Susan. Lee Holdridge's catchy score perfectly accompanies the montage scenes of Jeremy and Susan together in the city.

Interestingly, but not entirely surprisingly, Jeremy became an object of study for noted behavioral scientist Brian Gilmartin who has done extensive work on a form of shyness he calls love-shyness. Gilmartin's research showed that most love-shy men become pre-occupied or obsessed with one particular film or actress--Jeremy has the distinction of being the most watched film by love-shy men.

Barron didn't direct anything else of note before his death in 2000. Benson and O'Connor would go on to star together in Ode to Billy Joe and separately in several other high-profile feature and television teen romantic dramas throughout the decade and into the early '80s. Both continue to work today, Benson mostly as a director for television and O'Connor in television guest spots. I wrote a tribute to O'Connor here. Benson was the subject of an enlightening Los Angeles Times profile in 2008. Unfortunately, much of their other work is hard to find, i.e. not on DVD. Jeremy is, however, and it's a wonderful showcase for the talents of these two performers.



J.D. said...

Wow, never heard of this film but I am intrigued by you review. I always liked Robby Benson who always seemed kinda underrated to me as an actor. This sounds like one of those underappreciated gems from the 1970s.

Ned Merrill said...

Definitely give it a whirl, J.D. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks for this report Ned. I have never heard of this and it looks right up my alley.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, Jeremy. I'll be interested to hear what you think.

Anonymous said...

AS a teenager I went to see this in the theater with a bunch of friends,I had broken up with a girl who resembles O'Connor not long before seeing the film.Anyway,at the conclusion of the movie,a bunch of us were in tears,particularly me,and a girl who was with our group.Needless to say,me and the girl hugged outside the theater,she too broke up with someone.We became "close" because of the movie and dated for awhile afterwards. O yea,I went again the floowing night,cried again along with some people I knew who where there who also cried.I love this movie,always will.Cheryl,if your out there,this movie was about "us"!

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks so much for sharing your remembrance, Anonymous. I wasn't around when JEREMY was first released, but the ending never fails to hit me like a ton of bricks. As much as this movie is a product of the '70s, it's timeless at its core.

Anonymous said...

Saw this as an 11-year-old on a trans-Atlantic flight back in Feb. 1974. My parents and I were seated in the non-smoking section and therefore were relegated to seeing the "family" feature. The smoking section got AMERICAN GRAFFITI (the one I wanted to see!) but got quite an eyeful of Glynnis in the love scene! Luckily my parents didn't see the scene (they didn't care to watch anyway). BTW, fell in love with Ms O'Connor on the spot.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks for the great story, Anonymous. Fascinating detail about the smoking v. non-smoking movies and how that distinction dictated "adult" v. "family."

I know they edit airplane screenings these days for content. Did they then? I can't imagine, even with the love scene, that JEREMY would have much that would need to be censored. That said, I'm sure that certain constituencies on the right would have a problem with the film's condoning of, and portrayal of, underage, pre-marital sex, as tastefully as it portrayed.

bobfreelander said...

great thread man! A criminally underseen little gem!

Ned Merrill said...


Thanks for the kind words! The vivid memories that some people have of seeing this little movie all those years ago are really neat to read.

DocZilla said...

That was my anonymous post above about the in-flight movies above. Another odd thing was the return flight back from Europe. The smoking feature was yet again AMERICAN GRAFFITI (sat close enough to at least see it this time!). the non-smoking "family" film was the rarely seen since (no video, yet) FRASIER, THE SENSUOUS LION! A comedy "for the kids" about a horny old lion at the defunct (SoCal) Lion Country Safari! Info here:
Incidentally I did get to see AMERICAN GRAFFITI, twice, in 1978. Once theatrically, during a re-release to cash-in on George Lucas' STAR WARS popularity. Then, in of all places, my high school auditorium! One of those situations that occurred several times during the year when they herded a bunch of us into the auditorium and showed us a movie. Did that ever happen to anyone else?

Ned Merrill said...

Good to hear from you agai, DocZilla. Did not know about FRASIER, THE SENSUOUS LION. Sounds like the kind of thing only the '70s could produce. I recall some of those "movie in the auditorium" days in school. It was usually during a rainy day when recess couldn't be held outside.

moviesandsongs365 said...

Discovered it recently, a gem, especially the first half. To me Jeremy (1973) is a '70s Say Anything’ (also a realistic and endearing teenage story from 1989)

I'll also be reviewing Jeremy soon ( :

I'll link to your site on my blog.

I would appreciate it, if you, and others, would become a “follower” and/or link on your site to my new movie + music blog, just to help get it going:

We can help each other discover new movies that we might not otherwise have heard of ( :

Dean Treadway said...

I've always wanted to see this movie, but could never find it. I don't even think Kim's in NYC had it, but maybe I just overlooked it. I just caught CALIFORNIA DREAMING again on Hulu a few months ago, with O'Connor, Seymour Cassell, and Dennis Christopher. It was a movie I found to be crass but charming back in the 80s on cable, and my reaction to it now was similar, but tinged with a huge dollop of nostalgia. Also, I've always wanted to see MELANIE with O'Connor as a hollywood hanger-on again; I remember that being notable in some ways (not least of which it being the only movie featuring the acting of Burton Cummings!)

moviesandsongs365 said...

@ Dean Treadway

You can watch Jeremy on youtube:

Ned Merrill said...


The MGM widescreen DVD of JEREMY is readily available online for under $5 new.

Anonymous said...

Found! FRASIER THE (ahem!) LOVABLE LION is now available as part of a VCI "Family Movie 4 Pack":

Wow, just wow. The kiddies will surely be asking a lot of questions during FRASIER.