Being home means watching random movies my mom finds through Netflix. In this case, A Little Romance turned out to be entirely delightful. It's one of those movies where an American girl goes on a European adventure of sorts that I confess I love (ie, Chasing Liberty (2004)--Matthew Goode is irresistible when he wants to be). Lauren (Diane Lane in her debut film) is a 13-year-old who lives in Paris with her kind of slutty mother and actually good step-father. While reading a book at a movie set her mother drags her to, Lauren meets Daniel (Thelonious Bernard), a local French boy who snuck in.
The two soon start the kind of romance that 13-year-olds have. Well, brainy ones. They talk about Heidegger, which is boring except I'm delighted to think that there are 13-year-olds read and understand Heidegger. Although I can't really relate to that since I was still reading Sweet Valley Twins at 13. Anyway, Lauren meets Daniel on the sly, making her awkward/spastic friend Natalie (Ashby Semple) cover for her. Eventually they decide to run away to Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset so that they'll love each other forever like the legend says because Lauren has to move back to America in two weeks. They enlist the help of a charming old man Julius (Laurence Olivier) to help get the money to go (by placing bets at the horse races) and get the two minors across the border to Italy. Crazy hijinks ensue.
It's a pretty typical sort of pre-teen movie that you'd expect Hayley Mills to be in if it were the 60s, except that A Little Romance is replete with classic film references. In fact, it's very French New Wave in that we're always aware of film throughout. Daniel himself is obsessed with Hollywood films, and when he first meets Lauren, he requests she call him Bogie since Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall belong together. There's another scene when Daniel and Lauren go on a surreptitious date, and Daniel takes her to some sketchy looking movie theatre that his sketchy friend sneaks them into, and the film ends up being Japanese porn of some kind. Let's hear it for Taxi Driver. And when they're in Italy, they escape from the police on bicycles. Bicycle Thieves much?
But the most obvious film reference is to The 400 Blows (1959). Daniel is very much like Antoine. He comes home and puts food on the stove. He wanders the streets of Paris. He finds refuge in the movie theatre. Some of the outdoor locations look familiar as well. But what really solidified the reference was the freeze frame/zoom in ending. I have no idea why the director, George Roy Hill, put so many film references in a kids movie, but it makes me happy.
In fact, it's more of a smart kids kid movie. The main characters are gifted children who are bilingual and like philosophy and math. Daniel has a large working knowledge of film (in one of the great moments of the film, he punches a terrible director that's been flirting with Lauren's mom in the stomach). And even if you don't get a lot of the homages (there were some I was sure I was supposed to know but couldn't place), you can enjoy the fun characters. They got Laurence Olivier to be in this movie, for heaven's sake. What else could you ask for? Nothing.