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Even as a Sappy Romance, Dear John Doesn't Deliver

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2010 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Even as a Sappy Romance, <i>Dear John</i> Doesn't Deliver

DVD Release Date:  May 25, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  February 5, 2010
Rating:  PG-13 (for some sensuality and violence)
Genre:  Romance, Drama, Adaptation
Run Time:  105 min.
Director:  Lasse Hallstrom
Actors:  Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas, D.J. Cotrona, Cullen Moss, Gavin McCulley, Jose Lucena Jr., Braeden Reed, Luke Benward

If you've read any of Nicholas Sparks' tear-jerking novels or watched the equally swoony, big-screen renditions of The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe or Message in a Bottle, you've already got a pretty good idea of what to expect with Dear John.

Yes, once again, boy meets girl on the Carolina coastline (this time, it's South Carolina rather than North Carolina, so I guess that's a slight change from the norm), and before anyone gets too comfortable, there's a slew of handicaps and hardships blocking the couple's road to lifelong happiness.

Mind you, it's not the formula I necessarily have a problem with (although switching it up might offer that crucial element of surprise to keep the Sparks' faithful guessing, right?), but the story itself. Unlike Sparks' aforementioned work where the romantic connection was far more than the meeting of two genetically superior individuals, the love story in Dear John is ultimately superficial.    

Simply put, there's no redemptive, transforming power in this supposed life-altering love that justifies all the excessive heart-tugging. Instead, we've got a regulation spring-break romance that you already know is doomed, no matter how many starry-eyed declarations of being together forever are made.

This time around, the proverbial Romeo and Juliet first set eyes on each other when Savannah's (Amanda Seyfried) purse accidentally falls into the Atlantic. Stressing because "her whole life is in there," a handsome stranger named John (Channing Tatum) promptly comes to her rescue by diving in and retrieving it.

Since they're both relatively easy on the eyes, it's not difficult imagining why the initial attraction would be there. It's the whole we-fell-in-love-for-ever-and-ever-in-just-two-weeks part that's a bit more of a stretch. It's not that people aren't capable of finding—or falling head over heels for—their soulmate in a short period of time, it's just that we don't know what the driving force is behind John and Savannah's love.

Is it because he's a rebel and she's the requisite good girl—the whole opposites attract mystique? Or perhaps, it's because it's not easy finding an attractive girl willing to stick around even when you're a soldier deployed for a year? But for whatever reason John and Savannah can't live without each other and are committing to a long-term relationship when regular dates aren't possible, we're never sure why they are so crazy about each other. Sure, they talk a good game, but it's not convincing.

Part of that is a sheer lack of chemistry between the two leads. The oh-so-brooding Tatum, who usually opts for action movie roles  (see G.I. Joe and Stop-Loss) basically grunts his way through his lines and looks pretty uncomfortable for the duration. Meanwhile, Seyfried does the best with what's she's got—plenty of hair twirling, a pretty smile and longing looks at Tatum's character, but still, there's no spark.

Equally unremarkable is the character development for any of the supporting cast. From John's possibly autistic father with the borderline obsessive love of coin collecting (a thoroughly underutilized Richard Jenkins) to the hometown father and autistic son also vying for Savannah's affection (Henry Thomas and Braeden Reed, respectively), the characters are more caricatures than actual living, breathing humans.

Not exactly helping matters either is the film's leaden pace. In theory, there's something innately romantic about a couple forced to write letters back and forth to stay in touch. However, what makes for particularly enchanting reading doesn't always translate to an exciting movie, just one of the flaws that drag down what could've been a fascinating love story.

If anything, Dear John is merely big-budget Lifetime, made-for-TV fare. No doubt about it, everything is pretty as a postcard with its ocean views and sweeping landscapes. But if half the attention to aesthetics was invested in the actual script, well, Dear John would be a far stronger flick. Truth be told, I've seen far more compelling stories of lifelong love in the midst of war on Army Wives, and I didn't even have to leave the house.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking.

  • Language/Profanity:  An instance where God's name is paired with da—, plus a couple of milder profanities.

  • Sex/Nudity:  John and Savannah end up sleeping together once while John is on leave. The love scene is sort of drawn out with lots of passionate kissing, but is mostly done in silhouette. 

  • Violence:  John is shot during a mission, plus there's some extra war-related violence that's not particularly graphic. There's also footage of the Twin Towers collapsing on 9/11.

 

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.