Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie Review: Dear John

Dear John **
Directed by:
Lasse Hallström
Written By: Jamie Linden based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Starring: Channing Tatum (John Tyree), Amanda Seyfried (Savannah Curtis), Richard Jenkins (Mr. Tyree), Henry Thomas (Tim), D.J. Cotrona (Noodles), Cullen Moss (Rooster), Gavin McCulley (Starks), Jose Lucena Jr. (Berry), Keith Robinson (Captain Stone), Scott Porter (Randy), Leslea Fisher (Susan), William Howard Bowman (Daniels).

Nicholas Sparks has hit on a formula that works for him. He takes impossibly beautiful, impossibly perfect people, brings them together for a short period of time where they fall madly, deeply in love, and then forces them apart. Sometimes they are able to get back together (like The Notebook) and sometimes they are apart forever (like Nights in Rodanthe), but no matter what millions of women buy the books and cry their eyes out. Then a movie gets made of the book, and millions of woman go see it and cry their eyes out all over again.

Dear John is the latest of his books to get the big screen treatment (although it won’t be for long, as The Last Song with Miley Cyrus comes out this spring), and it follows his pattern to the letter. John (Channing Tatum) is a buff soldier on leave in the spring of 2001 visiting his father (Richard Jenkins) in Charleston, North Carolina. It’s there that he has a “Meet Cute” with Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) on the beach. The two of them spend pretty much every waking moment they have for the next two weeks together, before he has to ship back to Germany, and she has to go back to school. They fall deeply in love, and make plans on what they are doing to do when he gets out of the army in a year. But then, of course, something happens in the fall of 2001, and John feels that he cannot leave the army right away, and agrees to reenlist for two years. The two write each other long love letters nearly every day, and they get them through their various difficulties.

But then something else happens to keep them apart even more. I won’t reveal what it is, but considering the title of the movie, they really are not trying to keep it a secret, are they? This plot twist angered me, because it was completely illogical, and flies in the face of everything we were led to believe about Savannah up until that point. And the movie, which up until then had been a solid, if tremendously cheesy romantic movie (which there is nothing really wrong with. It’s no more cheesy than The Notebook, and I have to admit, no matter how embarrassing it is, that I liked that movie), but at this point, the movie flies off the rails and never regains its composure. Instead, we are treated to even more illogical plot turns as the movie goes along – especially when these two finally meet again, which you know they are going to. I suppose I was supposed to feel sympathy for Seyfried’s character, but I didn’t. No matter how doe eyed beautiful she is, or how sad she looks when she tells him “Do you think sitting here by myself worrying about you was easy for me?”, I wanted to scream at her “No, but it is a hell of a lot easier than fighting a damn WAR!”. I suppose that women in the audience, which let’s face facts, are the only people with a reason to go see the movie in the first place, may feel differently, but I couldn’t stop thinking that she was a selfish bitch.

Okay, end rant. It must be said that Dear John is a fairly well acted movie. I am getting a little tired of seeing Tatum play these troubled, chiseled young men who keep all their emotions bottled up inside, but that is what this role requires of him, and he does a fine job with it. Seyfried is beautiful, and sweet in the opening sequences, and even after the plot twist, she tries her damnedest to make it feel natural, and if she doesn’t succeed it really isn’t her fault. Richard Jenkins is fine as John’s father, who has a mild form of autism, but it’s a rather one note performance, and I couldn’t help think that if this is the best role he could get coming off his Oscar nomination last year for The Visitor, than that’s just sad.

The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who is talented at movies like this that require him to pull on our heartstrings. He is aways removed from his career at the beginning of the century, when his films kept inexplicably being nominated for tons of Oscars (The Cider House Rules is fine, Chocolat is pure crap), and way from removed from when he was actually making great films like My Life as a Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. But the direction is solid nonetheless. But in the filmmaker’s effort to pull on our heartstrings a little too hard – to have another reason to keep these two characters apart, they have undermined the entire movie. I’m sure that millions of women will go out and cry their eyes out at the movie. But I am also sure that I won’t be the only man who is dragged to the movie by his wife who just gets angry at the movie.

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