Anyone who sees a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book should know exactly what they’re getting into: a sappy love story set on the beach in which the couple experiences a montage of happy moments and lots of drama-filled trials and tribulations that prevent them from ending up together. A key character also usually dies.
As cliche as it sometimes is, the Sparks formula usually works very nicely onscreen for people who love a good romantic tearjerker. I will openly admit that “A Walk to Remember” never fails to move me, and Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams’ sizzling chemistry warrants repeat viewings of “The Notebook.”
I’m someone who constantly falls for this Sparks formula, but unfortunately the latest film based on one of his books, “Dear John,” just doesn’t live up to hype.
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) is an Army soldier at home in Charleston, S.C., on leave. He meets conservative and innocent college student Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) when she accidentally drops her purse off a pier into the ocean and he dives in after it. The two hit it off and spend the next two weeks falling head over heels for each other.
But at the end of that two weeks, Savannah must return to school and John must return to his tour. They decide to write to each other constantly to stay connected and agree that at the end of his tour, they will reunite and live happily ever after. But as Savannah warns, a lot can happen in 12 months.
While John is on his tour, planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and he feels it’s his duty to continue serving his country. Torn between the Army and Savannah, John struggles to make their relationship work from overseas.
Also integral to the plot is John’s relationship with his father (Richard Jenkins), a quiet and awkward man who would rather stay inside with his coin collection than venture out of the house. When Savannah tells John she thinks his father may be autistic, it forces John to come to terms with their strained relationship.
“Dear John” begins promisingly for a Sparks film. No, the writing isn’t great, and no, Lasse Hallstrom’s direction isn’t as beautiful as Nick Cassavetes’ direction of “The Notebook.” Seyfried and Tatum may be a bit stilted at times but overall their performances are solid.
What’s important is the love story, and the film sets it up to be one that viewers could really care about. The characters are likable and engaging, and Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent war is something that is still so fresh in audience members’ minds it is easy for them to relate.
It begins as a sweet story of young love surviving challenges, one that should move audiences and enthrall them. But about halfway through the film, it takes a nosedive.
The writing becomes choppy, and the pace of the story is thrown off by the convoluted stream of obstacles hurled at John and Savannah that ultimately lead to a very rushed ending. The twists at the end feel contrived, only serving to provide unnecessary and unrealistic angst.
Yes, there’s angst in every Sparks film, but most of the time it flows with the story. Here, the last third of the film feels so forced and rushed it falls miserably flat.
The bright spot in the film is Jenkins, whose portrayal of John’s autistic father is so nuanced and thoughtful it moves viewers effortlessly. Everything about his performance feels completely natural, proving the Oscar nominee has the power to shine in even the most mediocre films. He and Tatum also play well off of each other, and their relationship ultimately proves more interesting than the relationship between John and Savannah.
— Click here for five clips from ‘Dear John’ —
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