A Walk to Remember
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2002 1 Jan
from Film Forum, 02/07/02
Director Adam Shankman's (
The heroine is Jamie Sullivan (pop singer Mandy Moore), daughter of a kind-hearted pastor (Peter Coyote) in a small North Carolina town. We're given the impression that Jamie is considered unattractive. (This made many critics smirk—apparently, it's hard to make Mandy Moore look dumpy.) In spite of her perpetual good deeds, Jamie gets mocked by high school troublemakers and popular kids. One of the class rebels, Landon Carter (Shane West), gets assigned the lead in a school play as a punishment for causing trouble. And—surprise, surprise—it's righteous-but-unpopular Jamie who gets the job of teaching him his lines. Surely the "plain" beauty and the "handsome" beast will be drawn to each other. Surely Papa will disapprove. And surely some dark secret will be revealed.
"Who would have thought that
CT's Douglas LeBlanc says, "Peter Coyote delivers one of the finest performances of his eccentric career" in what he describes as "a quiet but remarkable film."
Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) remarks that the film "is just what its title implies. Moore infuses youthful passion into her heart-wrenching portrayal of Jamie. [She] has turned Jamie into a living, breathing Christian that you can cheer for and cry for." But despite his raves, Issac raises questions about the appropriateness of the film's central romance: "To begin dating [Landon], knowing that he is an unbeliever, puts Jamie in a precarious position. And if her actions are emulated, they will place young Christians in potentially compromising relationships."
Bruce Donaldson (Movieguide) voices similar misgivings. "Unfortunately, the movie reflects a phenomenon observable in the Church throughout much of the United States: the strong spiritual woman who wears the spiritual pants in the family. These women marry the 'good' backslidden or unregenerate men. As an exemplary Christian girl, Jamie should know better than to be 'unequally yoked.' If I had a daughter, I'd be concerned that, after seeing this movie, she'd get some romantic notion of finding an unruly boy and taming him herself."
Holly McClure (Orange County Register) was impressed that Jamie's "character and faith … gave her the inner strength and confidence that were her most important assets." But she tells parents, "There are several issues (standing up for your faith, teen marriage, a teen's death) that you may want to discuss with your kids and teens later."
Paul Bicking (Preview) cautions us that "almost a dozen obscenities are heard in early scenes, which prevents [Preview's] total recommendation." But he adds, "strong Christian elements, including Bible readings about love, are included without seeming overly preachy. The main character is portrayed as a Christian without being psychopathic or holier-than-thou."
(But is Jamie clearly a Christian? A fellow critic asked me if Moore mentions Christ even once. She certainly behaves morally, but do we hear her specifically express personal faith in Christ?)
"We long for good films for our youth," says Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight on the Movies). "Well finally, here's one on the right track!" He admits, however, that his theater experience wasn't exactly ideal: "Much of the crowd laughed and made fun of the film. I can already see a shameless parody coming." But he concludes, "The message is inescapable."
That's the response from the religious press. But how does the film play for the nonreligious moviegoer?
A few mainstream critics were moderately pleased. Lisa Alspector (The Chicago Reader) says the movie "isn't manipulative" and it "has a fair amount of nuance and charm." And Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) liked it. "After all of the vulgar crudities of the typical modern teenage movie, here is one that looks closely, pays attention, sees that not all teenagers are as cretinous as Hollywood portrays them. Yes, the movie is corny at times. But … I forgave the movie its broad emotion because it earned it.
The majority, however, find it contemptible for predictability, preachiness, and racial stereotypes. Online ranter Walter Chaw (Film Freak Central) calls it "hopelessly unrealistic and often uncomfortable to watch, far more interested in presenting Moore with showcase opportunities to peddle her cavity-causing music. If you don't know every single plot point and twist after the first twenty minutes, you've done the sensible thing and left after the first ten."
Stephanie Zacharek (Salon.com) complains, "The story is secondary to the movie's grand lessons, which are thumpingly obvious." She concludes that the film is "a vehicle for teen singing sensation Mandy Moore. As vehicles go, it's an Edsel."
Jonathan Perry (Boston Globe) says, "In their zeal to create a character who embodies a wholesome, positive adolescent ideal, the filmmakers have invented an 18-year-old girl with no self-doubt, no emotional weakness, no character flaws, and a crystal-clear complexion … they've invented a saint, not a teenager." It bothers him that the only African American character is "relegated to spouting stereotyped black lingo, presumably for laughs, about 'getting my freak on' and how a 'brother' needs 'booty.'"
A.O. Scott (New York Times) says it "proves that a movie about goodness is not the same thing as a good movie." He's dismayed at Landon's transformation—into a Christian music fan. "The movie's deep message seems to be that bad music is good for you."
While it's comforting to Christians to see a believer portrayed without mockery, it sounds like it will take something more artful and original to capture the imaginations of more seasoned moviegoers. Still, this looks like a step in the right direction.from Film Forum, 02/07/02
Whatever the critics think of Mandy Moore's performance in
Last week, Film Forum excerpted reviews from critics who were either moved to tears or crying for it to go away. This week, I found out moviegoers have strong opinions of their own and that they are quite willing to send in e-mail on the subject. Most of the positive reviews came from teenagers.
Nicole S. testified, "I fell in love with the whole theme of the movie. I walked away saying, 'I want to be more like Jamie.' It's amazing how one girl's life can touch so many. People are looking at your life, and I want people to feel that discomfort that God puts in your heart to change. [This] was really a great movie."
What do boys think of this weepy, rather sentimental story? Dan writes, "Being a teenage boy, I am not always interested in attending movies [that have] lots of high emotion and I don't feel like any kind of real plot developed. I was amazingly shocked to find that … not only was the movie a good plot, but God was lifted up in it also. I feel on the level of faith and obedience, Jamie Sullivan portrayed many of the feelings I feel about God."
Grownups are finding a mix of virtues and faults in the film. Martha Mims writes, "I thought that it was not a great movie, but it had a great theme. I liked the religious elements and the biblical references and shots, but was not too pleased that Jamie was obviously bra-less in the tattoo scene."
Matthew French took his senior high youth group to the film and reports, "Teenage girls will love it. It was a little slow and drawn out, but as a man in his late 20s, this isn't the genre I would normally be interested in. I was happy to support such a project and I hope it does well enough to stir up interest in making more movies like this. Now we just need a quality Christian-themed movie for the teenage guys. That will be more challenging."
Jason Dickey responds to some of the critics' accusations that the film is formulaic. "I know of no teen movies where a terminally-ill class nerd finds inner resolve through faith and realizes that her short life moves the lives of those around her. That is hardly a 'cliched' storyline." He also disagrees with those who found the one African American high schooler to be stereotyped. "All of the 'in-crowd' in this film speaks using hip-hop argot. The fact that one of the 'in-crowd' in a southern community happens to be black is a progressive statement. The black teen is the only popular teen, aside from the hero, who turns out to be a decently-minded chap in the end. Southern Baptists will also be pleased to see the Baptist church portrayed as an inter-racial congregation whose worship style blends a somewhat subdued variety of white fundamentalism with African American music and decor. Apparently the moviemakers have taken all of the SBC's 'racial reconciliation' talk seriously. … Any film critic who gives teen crud like
One viewer raves, "If I could I would shake Mandy Moore's hand for being willing to 'stand out and stand up' for what she believes in. It may not win 'little gold statues' but it does win applause from those who hold morals, faith, Christ and hope!"
But some Christian are not applauding. Actress Cressida Troy writes: "Besides the lack of acting ability and poor plot, the fact that Mandy Moore's character was a Christian seemed to go on the backburner after the scene where we see her sing in church, and it seemed to me that it was simply an excuse for her to be able to sing in the movie to make up for her lack of acting skills. I was sorely disappointed in the lack of references to God during the movie. When they did refer to Moore's Christianity, it was very general, and we didn't see any real believability in her character."
"Most of my friends agreed with me it was a really bland film," says Russ Breimeier, coproducer and music critic for the ChristianityToday.com music channel. "I do think it is a wholesome film, suitable for Christian teens—parents can rest easy knowing that the film has a lot of good messages in it. But it was little more than an after-school special to me."
And how about the film's much-lauded portrayal of the faith? "In terms of Christianity," says Breimeier, "the film has little to say about it. The Christian faith of Jamie's character is merely a characteristic, not a plot point. She could have been any faith or culture and they could have written the story around that without altering it too much. I think a key scene is when Carter visits her in the hospital. Jamie says she has a gift for him and then qualifies that with 'Don't worry … it's not a Bible.' This is a solid Christian, who doesn't even make the slightest attempt to share her faith with the man she loves? I kept waiting for the eventual scene of faith, and it never happened. … The Christian message I took from the film is that Christians are really nice people who tend to volunteer a lot and only listen to Christian music. They take marriage very seriously and when they become adults, they're often overprotective of their children. Certainly not a bad portrayal of Christians, but is it really an image worthy of acclaim?"
Luis Segarra objects to critical reactions like Movieguide's, which criticized the movie's pairing of a rebellious boy with a virtuous girl: "[These] religious reviews … crystallize the problem that evangelicals are going to have as we try to bring our message beyond the four walls of the church: When a movie is made that portrays one of 'us,' it's never good enough for us. The complaint about [the pair being] 'unequally yoked' is laughable! Hey people, relax, enjoy a sweet movie with a nice message and a nice portrayal of a Christian; not just pick and poke where it's not theologically correct. How far are we going to take this? Are we going to howl if the characters are not Calvinists or Pre-Tribulationists? If they weren't reading from the KJV? When
Segarra believes evangelical responses to movies will have to change before Hollywood's attitude does: "Evangelicalism is going to have to mature and not have automatic knee-jerk reactions if we ever plan to use such a wonderful medium as the big screen for the cause of our Saviour. The reason why Christians … are on the average not portrayed in a positive light in movies is simple: on the average, movie writers, directors, producers, and actors are on the average not religious; they are alien to us, our message. So all they know is caricatures. It's no left-wing conspiracy; it's simple ignorance. It's our job (not theirs) to present ourselves and our message of Christ."