While having never personally read a Nicholas Sparks novel, it’s pretty evident from his body of film adaptations that he must hate the living. Or maybe something desperately tragic has happened to him in his past and he thinks that movie audiences and avid readers must suffer as much as he has in life and if you think anything is going to change for his latest venture, Dear John, you are gravely mistaken.
One way or the other, if you’re in a Nicholas Sparks film you should become a bit more self-aware as either you or someone you love is marching forth to their deathbed. At first it wasn’t quite so obvious. Message in a Bottle was released way back in 1999 and A Walk to Remember didn’t come out until 2002. Three years is a good amount of time for non-Sparks fans to not see a pattern simply based on two films.
However, after the likes of his latest three, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, and Dear John, the pattern is clear – love is something that must be buried. Whether beneath a freak mudslide, out to sea, or riddled by cancer, it must be stopped and the female audience must cry! His next film, The Last Song, is currently just waiting in the wings to take out yet another female pop star, Miley Cyrus.
Director Lasse Hallström has made some great films in the past. With such films on his resume as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Something to Talk About, The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat, you would think he’d know a thing or two about this type of material. However, his films have grown increasingly worse and he has now treated us to the law of diminishing returns with The Shipping News, An Unfinished Life, and Casanova – this latest offering should probably not come as a complete surprise.
Dear John starts with another unintelligible monologue from Hollywood’s latest “it” kid, Channing Tatum. While he doesn’t quite bug me yet, he too gets increasingly worse with each film. Tatum plays the hero of the piece, John Tyree, a soldier who is home on leave. After saving Savannah Curtis’s (Amanda Seyfried) purse from open water they meet cute and it’s love at first surf.
John is staying at his father’s house (played by the always reliable and best part of this movie, Richard Jenkins) while on leave. Mr. Tyree doesn’t talk much but of course when Savannah asks about his coin collection he’s all kinds of gabby. Savannah and John are both only home for two weeks but they find time to make out in an obligatory rain storm, build a house for humanity, and finally consummate their newfound love before she heads back to school and he back to war.
They start off their time apart writing letters back and forth to each other (anyone named John who thinks this is a good idea is just waiting for a true “Dear John” letter to arrive). Soon enough, the expected break-up letter arrives and John returns home to bury his father. John also finds out that Savannah got “confused” and “lonely” and married the local cancer patient (Henry Thomas, little E.T.’s Elliott all grown up) with the autistic son next door. Over an awkward candlelit dinner Savannah comes clean and they must both confront their true feelings for each other and figure out what’s best for both of them.
Decisions are made and ludicrous passages of time go by and Nicholas Sparks’ ending is changed into one of the most ridiculous cases of history repeating itself combined with chance encounters of the clichéd kind. At one point Savannah tells John that she has flaws of her own, but I’m sure he had no idea what he was in for.
Surprisingly, Seyfried has neither the acting chops nor the screen presence to fend off the likes of what a heinous person her character turns out to be and that leaves us with Tatum to root for. But when his character’s too stupid to realize why he hasn’t received a letter from his long-distance girlfriend in two months it just means he’s too stupid to care about.
Unintentional hilarity rules the day while everyone learns their life lessons. Tatum was obviously cast because his character needs to be someone the ladies will want to see with his shirt off numerous times and Seyfried is completely miscast for all the reasons mentioned in the last paragraph. And if you think the line, “…my edges have been rimmed and beveled” sounds hilarious, just wait till you hear it a second time.
One last point of interest; during the candlelit dinner scene, John says to Savannah, “We’re sitting here and we’re eating and we’re talking, but nobody’s saying anything,” and that’s exactly what the audience is in for the entire runtime.
Photo courtesy Screen Gems