review for Splendor in the Grass on AllMovie

Splendor in the Grass (1961)
by Michael Hastings review

As florid and overwrought as the teen scandal it dramatizes, Elia Kazan's lush melodrama may not withstand the test of time very well, but its glamorous histrionics and martyred-lover plot line make it perhaps the quintessential breakup film. Audiences today may have trouble believing that anyone would literally go crazy over losing Warren Beatty to another woman, but Natalie Wood's Wilma does just that, and her eventual tranquility at the insane asylum is hardly the sort of satisfying ending the filmmakers might have intended. But, as with much of the rest of the film, it works on another, more bitterly enjoyable level: the look-what-you've-done-to-me school of Hollywood catharsis (see also Douglas Sirk, Tennessee Williams). Viewed through this prism, the film's earlier half is the most effective, with Audrey Christie supplying the same kind of maternal, puritanical repression Piper Laurie would channel 15 years later for her role in Carrie. Beatty and Wood accurately convey the sort of hormonally induced confusion and angst that most teenagers experience, the former playing the role of the taciturn stud as if he invented it (which, in a way, he did), and the latter turning in perhaps her finest impersonation of a dewy, weepy adolescent (in a career full of them). Her money shot -- in which a post-breakup Wilma interprets the Wordsworth poem that gives the movie its title -- is full of the kind of righteous self-pity that only Splendor in the Grass can provide.