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.