Love Story is a 1970 romantic drama film written by Erich Segal coordinated with his 1970 best-selling novel. It was directed by Arthur Hiller. The film, well-known as a tear-jerking tragedy, is considered one of the most romantic of all time by the American Film Institute (#9 on the list), and was followed by a sequel, Oliver's Story in 1978. Love Story starred Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal and also marked the film debut of a then-unknown Tommy Lee Jones, who played a minor role in the film.
Without his father's financial support, the couple struggles to pay Oliver's way through Harvard Law School with Jenny working as a private school teacher. Graduating third in his class, Oliver takes a position at a respectable New York law firm.
With Oliver's new income, the pair of 24-year-olds decide to have a child. After failing to conceive, they consult a medical specialist, who, after repeated tests, informs Oliver that Jenny is ill and will soon die. While this is not stated explicitly, she appears to have leukemia.
As instructed by his doctor, Oliver attempts to live a "normal life" without telling Jenny of her condition. Jenny nevertheless discovers her ailment after confronting her doctor about her recent illness. With their days together numbered, Jenny begins costly cancer therapy, and Oliver soon becomes unable to afford the multiplying hospital expenses. Desperate, he seeks financial relief from his father. Instead of telling his father what the money is truly for, Oliver leads him to believe that he needs it because he has had an affair which led to a pregnancy.
From her hospital bed, Jenny speaks with her father about funeral arrangements, and then asks for Oliver. She tells him to avoid blaming himself, and asks him to embrace her tightly before she dies.
The novel also includes the double meaning of a love story between Oliver and his father, highlighted by the scene between Oliver and his father at the end of the book. When Mr. Barrett realizes that Jenny is ill and that his son borrowed the money for her, he immediately sets out for New York. By the time he reaches the hospital, Jenny is dead. Mr. Barrett apologizes to his son, who replies with something Jenny once told him: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
While the movie has antagonists like every other story, it features no villains. From Harvard's nemesis on the ice — Cornell — to the aristocratic elder Barretts, every character is good at heart.
The film also reflected the times: Jennifer most likely has leukemia, but the characters never utter the word due to silence over cancer at the time. The novel, on the other hand, stated that she has a form of leukemia.
Melinda Henneberger reported in an in-depth investigative piece in the Sunday 12-14-1997 issue of the New York Times that, "The character of the preppy Harvard hockey player Oliver Barrett 4th was modeled on both Mr. Gore and his college roommate, the actor Tommy Lee Jones." Gore had been the model for the young college student with a highly accomplished father to live up to.
At the beginning of every academic year at Harvard, the movie is screened for freshmen, who generally respond derisively with Rocky Horror-type catch phrases and antics. The film is considered farcical by most Harvard students.
Despite a modest critical backlash, the film remains a popular culture icon. It holds the number nine spot on theAFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions, which recognizes the top 100 love stories in American cinema. The film also spawned a trove of imitations, parodies, and homages in countless films, having re-engergize melodrama on the silver screen as well as helping to set the template for the modern "chick flick".