Dear John doesn't reach its potential, but it could be worse

    “Dear John: Two weeks together. That’s all it took. Two weeks for me to fall in love with you.”
    Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

    Read our interview with Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum.

    Grade: B-
    Bottom line:Dear John gives you everything you’d expect from a Nicholas Sparks movie – pure cheese fluff love, a moving story and a bittersweet ending.

    When I heard the words “Nicholas Sparks” and “movie” in the same sentence, I assumed I knew what I was in for. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. An epic love story à la The Notebook. Say cheese, then cut and fade to black.

    Granted, the initial appeal of the movie for me was six-fold: Channing Tatum’s abs. And while I can’t say I predicted every step of the plot development, the overall Nicholas Sparks formula was the same.

    A dramatic recounting of boy loves girl. Their love endures as extenuating circumstances take a toll on their relationship, culminating in a heart-wrenching ending — with a few Hollywood kisses in the rain along the way.

    While home on leave in Charleston, a young soldier John Tyree (Channing Tatum) quickly falls for Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), an idealistic college student. Their two-week whirlwind romance is strained with John’s continuous deployments, which over the next seven years, serve to separate the couple. Resorting to old-school love letters, John and Savannah are able to keep in touch — until one letter “changes everything.”

    Director Lasse Hallström explores more than the love between John and Savannah in the film; Dear John is also the love story of John and his father (Richard Jenkins). Hallström weaves autism into the plot, adding a layer of profundity to the story; however its development does not yield a distinct resolution. It is unclear what Hallström wants the audience to take away from the characters of Alan and Mr. Tyree — is it simply awareness or a call for more action?

    Riddled with awkward tension, stolen glances and corny humor, the movie’s one truly poignant storyline is the one between John and his father. Jenkins’ acting is absolutely superb; every mannerism and word spoken is loaded. His purposeful lack of eye contact and overall demeanor elevates the dynamic of the father-son relationship.

    Tatum’s acting is also enhanced in his scenes with Jenkins, most notably in the hospital at his father’s bedside. Mr. Tyree holds John’s hand as he chokes on his words while reading his letter. As John lays his head on his dad’s chest, his tears and last touches will undoubtedly tug at the audiences’ heartstrings.

    In the scenes with John and Savannah, the caliber of acting is visibly lower. Seyfried may have a beautiful and powerful voice, but her character deliverance is often flat, unmoving and does little to speak to the audience.
    Her acting upon receiving bad news is less than moving — but Seyfried is able to channel the maturity that her character acquires over the course of the relationship.

    The story progression is fairly straightforward, but Hallström makes good use of montage scenes to move things along and emphasize the consequences of John and Savannah’s love, rather than purely the love itself.

    The movie’s creative elements exemplify Hallström’s craft as a director, but it cannot mask the unremarkable plot of a trite love story. Between the novel and the script, I felt there was a bit of a disconnect. The dialogue of the movie derived meaning not from the actual words being said, but from the amalgamation of background elements — light, background, sound and overarching societal issues. Dear John is not a one-dimensional film, but the potential of the story was not fully realized.


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