The screenplay was written by the author of the best-selling novel, Erich Segal; the movie was directed by Arthur Hiller, and starred Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal as Jenny and Oliver.
The story is elemental in its simplicity and starkness of presentation.
Oliver and Jenny are opposites who attract. He is a preppie and hockey jock at Harvard whose family has donated enough money to the university to have buildings named after them. She is an artsy Radcliffe student, smart and mouthy. He is fair, blond and blue-eyed; she is dark, with the long ironed hair and thin mini-skirted legs so popular at the time (1970). He is Protestant, she Catholic. Her widowed father is accepting, loving, supportive; his father is stiff, unemotional, controlling. (His mother speaks one line in the movie, then subsides onto the couch, never to be seen again.)
Oliver and Jenny seem to live in a perfect world that contains no one else. Even Oliver's roommates (who include a young Tommy Lee Jones - with hair!) fade out of the picture rather early; Jenny appears to have no friends at all. The young couple are shown running through the snow, lying intertwined on a couch studying, making love. Although it's the seventies, there's no drinking, no marijuana, no rock music, just a concert with Jenny playing Bach on piano.
Inevitably, this perfect picture begins to fray. Oliver's father disowns him for marrying Jenny, leaving the young couple to work - Jenny teaching, Oliver selling Christmas trees - while Oliver goes to law school. But once he graduates with a Harvard law degree, he is offered a job in New York city, they move to the big apple and begin to live in style. Jenny doesn't seem to have a job there or any friends; as far as we can see she spends her time making Oliver breakfast and trying to get pregnant. Then their doctor tells Oliver the bad news: Jenny's dying. Oddly, he doesn't tell Jenny yet, and counsels Oliver not to either, for now.
Jenny finds out about her unnamed but fatal illness soon enough; she goes into the hospital and within five minutes is dead. No shots of illness, treatments, final rasping breaths, nothing. Just Oliver nodding to Jenny's father in the hallway, tears in his eyes: it's over.
It's an affecting movie: even hard-assed men shamefacedly admit they cried at the end. I think it's partly because there's nothing in the movie to distract from the central relationship except Oliver's troubled interactions with his father. This film doesn't draw on any of the props familiar from so many movies and TV shows: there's no wisecracking best friend, no gay neighbour, no mother to speak of, no pets, no lovers' quarrels, no wasting away, no hair falling out, no puking, no recriminations, no regrets. Far too simple, in other words, but touching for all that.
The movie received seven Academy Award nominations, including best movie, best actor, best actress, best direction, and best screenplay, but won only best original score for Frances Lai's haunting sad music.