Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Cast: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas
Running Time: 2 hrs
Rating: PG 13
Release Date: February 5, 2010
PLOT: While home on two-week leave, Sergeant John Tyree (Tatum) falls in love with a beautiful college student, Savannah (Seyfried). Almost directly after they pledge their undying love for each other, the attack on the Twin Towers happens and John patriotically marches off to war.
WHO’S IT FOR? No one. If you’re a fan of the book, you’ll really dislike this adaptation. If you’re not a fan of the book (and I’m not, thanks), the movie is overwhelmingly bland and badly constructed. Trust me on this–a friend of mine loved the book and she was appalled at the plot liberties taken in this movie.
EXPECTATIONS: I thought I was going to hate it with a dark sort of joy. I thought I was going to get to jump up and down on it while insulting it’s mother. Bayer (that sneaky bastard) got me to agree to go to the movie before he’d tell me which one it was. The preview made me nauseated; I had high hopes for a horrible, god-awful pile of stinky, cheesy tripe.
Channing Tatum as John Tyree: Barring one really heartbreaking scene, Tatum mostly just stands around and looks statuesque. His face was apparently carved out of marble, because it’s supernaturally sculpted and it isn’t real mobile. Maybe it’s a mask. Without Seyfried in the movie, Tatum doesn’t interest me. Hollywood is replete with pretty, thick-headed boys and I don’t find any of them particularly compelling. Tatum’s strong, taciturn demeanor serves him well in the scenes involving John and his father. Otherwise, it’s Seyfried’s show…until the movie makes you hate her character.
Amanda Seyfried as Savannah: Seyfried is wonderfully natural, and lovely and lithesome to boot. If they ever decide to remake Splash we’ve found our Madison, because Seyfried is already a long-locked mermaid. I love to watch her. The camera loves to film her. This movie would be dead boring without her. Even when she’s admiring John’s father’s coin collection you enjoy her presence and that’s on par with watching competitive knitting. And then, without any of the crucial back story from Sparks’ book, Savannah does something so nasty and incomprehensible, all the cuteness in the world can’t salvage the character.
Richard Jenkins as Mr. Tyree: Thank God for Richard Jenkins, because his is the only really interesting storyline. When the movie first introduced this character, I thought: uh-oh. After all my caterwauling over the trailer, I might actually LIKE this story and then I’d never live it down. Fortunately for me, the movie squanders this fascinating angle; otherwise it was really starting to grow on me. Jenkins isn’t given a lot of lines, so he does a lot of mumbling–but it’s quality mumbling and what he’s able to portray through that reserved discomfort was my favorite part of the whole movie.
Henry Thomas as Tim: According to my friend, Tim was a very important character in the book, which would have made a lot more sense story-wise. In the movie, he’s basically a lawn ornament. This was an exceptionally poor decision on someone’s part, because Tim is part of the story’s foundation–remove him from it and sh*t stops making sense after a while. The movie is in a very big hurry to thrust Tatum and Seyfried together and pump out another homogenized Valentine’s Day “couple’s flick”, and in doing so, major chunks of story are neglected or altogether lost. Very disappointing.
TALKING: I’m not a big fan of Nicolas Sparks, nor am I particularly fond of the schmaltzy genre, but the writing in Dear John is pretty solid. There are a few really good, dramatic lines and some of the exchanges between characters ring very true. Obviously, there’s the sugary sweet stuff, too, but there’s enough really good writing to make you even more aware of what a miss it ends up being.
SIGHTS: I can’t remember seeing that many montages in a row in any other movie. In fact, there are montages in Dear John that actually interrupt other montages–dueling montages. Not only are there a plethora of montages, but no clear indication of the passing of time. So, after a montage it could be days later or months later–you won’t know until a character actually says, “Hey, remember a couple of years ago when blah blah?” Having that many montages is a huge cop-out; the screenplay must have been only fifteen pages long.
SOUNDS: Your average, swoony romantic drama music with a few smarmy songs sprinkled throughout. There is one scene (during a montage, which is actually disrupted by a whole new montage) where Amanda Seyfried is singing to John and her voice is gorgeous. It’s one minor high point in a sea of lows.
BEST SCENE: The scene between John and his father in the hospital is incredibly touching. Never mind that it breaks with what we know about John’s father–you just won’t care. Everyone in the theater got a little teary, including yours truly. You know what that means: if I teared up, most normal people will openly cry. Too bad this scene also lets us know that the one really layered storyline is going bye-bye and now we are stuck with John and Savannah and all their whiny pining.
ENDING: The ending was another wussy cop-out. Even the audience members rooting for John and Savannah thought it was smug and watery. Oh, and for all you fans of the book, the ending is yet another slap in the face. Seriously, it’s going to tick you off.
QUESTIONS: All the old classics, like, why not just adapt the book? There was obviously something about the book that you liked, even if it all boils down to “I make love to my money and people spend money on Nicolas Sparks.” Follow me here…if Nicolas Sparks has a huge fan base, shouldn’t you APPEAL to them by respecting the stories they so adore? That way you’d have even more money to love. Hello? Is this thing on?
Under any other circumstances, I’d rail against Dear John. Not only that, I’d take potshots and low-blows at anyone who likes that sort of romantic insta-mash and I’d work myself into such an angry, self-righteous frenzy that I’d be flying high on my superiority for days on end. I went into the theater cracking my knuckles and putting on my warpaint. I was going to have so much twisted fun.
And then–GASP–it wasn’t actually that bad. It isn’t an Oscar winner by any stretch, but it presented likable, interesting people and a few very unique dynamics. It was more than palatable, it was enjoyable. And then it gradually imploded with a frustrating lack of self-awareness, ignoring important characters and plot lines and forgetting to reiterate passing time. When we don’t know if it’s been a day or a year, a character’s decision can seem straight out of crazy nowhere.
You have to read the book to know why certain characters did certain things, because the movie throws things at you without any explanation. It didn’t frustrate me, it didn’t irritate me, it didn’t make me angry; nor did it make me smile, sigh, blush, or titter like a schoolgirl. Dear John peters out with such an unspectacular flatline that I bet Mr. Sparks isn’t too pleased with the final product. No matter how much money you make off a deal, you never want to watch all the richness of your story gutted and bled out.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10