Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:55 pm 
Site Admin

Joined: Sat Mar 08, 2003 1:50 pm
Posts: 3656
Location: California/NYC

Blue-chip corn

Nicolas Sparks is a perennially popular novelist who specializes in weepy tales of star-crossed lovers. He's written fifteen. The Notebook became a movie. So did A Walk to Remember. And Message in a Bottle. And Nights in Rodanthe. Now Lasse Hallström, a specialist in glossy crowd-pleasers, has directed an adaptation of Sparks' Dear John, a story whose lovebirds are separated by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If you want a simple fantasy about an inarticulate but brave soldier and a saintly young woman, this will do the trick. Otherwise you may wonder at the lack of rounded character development or convincing storytelling.

At home by the water in Charleston, South Carolina on leave from soldiering with an elite Special Forces squad, John Tyree (Channing Tatum) dives off a pier to rescue a young lady's dropped purse. Its grateful owner is well-born college student Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried).

Channing Tatum (of Step Up and Public Enemies, and a comer) looks like last year's Bruce Weber model -- muscular, square-jawed, wide-eyed, all-American, uncomplicated. He photographs as well with his shirt off as in a tight dress uniform. He has sweet cow eyes. He is the epitome of the manly hunk. He's so tight-lipped it's hardly surprising that his father (character actor Richard Jenkins, of The Visitor) is full-on autistic and can talk coherently only of his coin collection. It turns out Savannah is drawn to autistic folks, and one of her friends is Tim (Henry Thomas), a single dad with an autistic child. Savannah gets along really well with Mr. Tyree, but then she's also interested in Tim and his unpredictable son Alan (Braeden Reed, Luke Benward).

Well, guess what? John and Savannah spend his two weeks of leave together and when it's over and he must return to his secret assignment, they're -- totally in love! So he promises that when his service is up in a year, they will be together. And they agree to wait. Their cloyingly repeated wish-fulfillment goodbye is "see you soon."

Military service in this movie is strictly an opportunity to engage in passionate correspondence of the old-fashioned snail mail kind. Savannah and John exchange declarations of love and loyalty revealed to us in voice-overs. But just when John's remaining year of service is over, the 9/11 attacks happen. Poor John! Duty calls. His squad members, after a weekend during which John goes all the way back from some top secret exotic country to Charleson, all decide to re-up for duty in Afghanistan, and he can't desert them.

Again during that weekend John and Savannah spend an impassioned time together. In honor of the War on Terror, she (apparently) gives up her abstinence from almost everything -- drinking, cursing (except in her mind) and premarital sex -- to make love with John. And then again they part, pledging once more to wait and "see you soon."

But Savannah's already waited a year, and this time "soon" starts to look pretty far off. The title gives away what happens, if you know what a "Dear John letter" is, as pretty much everybody does. There are only tear-jerker scenes from here on -- not that that's much of a change.

The epistolary saga ends. There's finally a tiny combat sequence in which John takes two bullets. Eventually, though not right away, he's retired from the service. The time period of this movie is eight years. But Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried are as pristine as ever at the end of them. Time takes its toll on John's autistic dad, and the autistic boy, Alan, is taken over by an older actor. The feel-good ending is far-fetched and trite.

It's hard to see how a good movie could be made out of material like this. Lasse Hallström's good taste, polish, and restraint as a director are such (A.O. Scott calls him "a blue chip hack") that you think he's done the best that could be done. The movie belongs to the inarticulate. Tatum comes through well. John emerges as seething with emotion, but strong in holding it back -- except for one moment of violence during the first leave that, it's hinted, was his regular style when he was younger. But this is conviction in appearance; Tatum is given nothing realistic to do. As John's father Richard Jenkins is terribly twisted and mannered, but he has to be to project both the total repression and the sweetness the story calls for from him. Amada Seyfried is not distinctive but she is adequate, sincere -- and very pretty. But when you remember Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in Nick Cassavetes' The Notebook -- though I'm still wondering why an actor of Gosling's caliber and daring took on such a project -- you realize this kind of material can be handled better. It's hard to see what Nicholas Sparks is an expert on: not war experience, certainly; not autism. Even the behavior of his two lovebirds is only minimally convincing. Maybe coin collecting? Lasse Hallström and the writer of the screen adaptation, Jamie Linden, have not added anything to compensate. All that's left us are some acting tics and Tatum's strong silent meaningfulness.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Forum locked This topic is locked, you cannot edit posts or make further replies.  [ 1 post ] 

All times are UTC - 8 hours

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 16 guests

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group