Think of the most trite, romantic phrase you can, and I almost guarantee you will hear it uttered in Dear John, the romantic drama opening on February 5, 2010.
Based on the bestselling Nicholas Sparks novel and directed by Oscar-nominee Lasse Hallstrom, Dear John had great potential. Its key ingredients: love, loss, war, and beautiful people didn’t mix as well as I had hoped. As one movie-goer behind me said, “That was definitely no Notebook.”
The film Dear John opens abruptly, with promise, immediately whisking the viewer into a war zone. Love does always feel like a battlefield, doesn’t it? The perfectly chiseled John Tyree (Channing Tatum) falls to the ground, admitting through narration his final thoughts before black-out; his true love, Savannah (played by Amanda Seyfried), and coins. John’s connection to coins comes from his father, a silent, yet sweet coin-collector played by Richard Jenkins. “I’m just a coin in the U.S. Army,” John says.
The first scene in Dear John deceivingly does not set the pace, which slows tremendously once John (Channing Tatum), a Special Forces soldier on leave in South Carolina, meets Savannah. Amanda Seyfried as Savannah brings excitement and curiosity to John’s and his father’s lives. Though obvious chemistry fuses Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, the characters lack the overwhelming sense of passion and love that Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams portrayed in Sparks’ prior romantic film, The Notebook.
John notices Savannah, on vacation from college, as she drops her purse into the ocean. Anxious to demonstrate his athleticism and bravery he immediately dives in, saving the day and winning her respect. Immediate attraction intrigues them both, and they spend the next two weeks inseparable.
Set in 2001, Dear John allows Savannah to take the reigns in the relationship. She demands that she meet John’s father on the night of their first date and ends the date with a kiss on his cheek. She asks question after question, surprising herself with her desperation to know everything about John.
The movie’s strong beginning stems from Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of young love. Savannah glows, unable to keep her hands and eyes off of John. John abandons his distance and opens himself to romantic love, an emotion he never experienced before.
In one of my favorite scenes from the film Dear John, Savannah shows John the house she and her affluent family are rebuilding. The twosome let the rain soak them through, seeking shelter under the support beams. Wet from the rain and gleaming from emotion, all they can do at that moment is kiss.
The music accompanying the film Dear John brings vibrancy and life; the lyrics flow alongside the plot. Joshua Radin and Schuyler Fisk’s song Paperweight plays multiple times throughout the movie. “Been up all night, staring at you, wondering what’s on your mind. I’ve been this way with so many before, but this feels like the first time.”
If only love could remain pure exhilaration and joy. As John and Savannah learn in Dear John, love cannot exist without immense pain. As John leaves for the army and Savannah returns to school, their separation destroys them.
“It only took two weeks to fall in love with you,” Savannah writes John. Love shocks them both powerfully and quickly, leaving them forever affected by their two weeks together. As the song continues, “Every word you say, I think I should write down, don’t want to forget come daylight.”
In the movie Dear John, the love-birds intensify their attachment through letters. At this turning point, the movie declines, its narrative filled with tired phrases. “Everything around me makes me miss you,” John writes. When the full moon rises, as it does multiple times, both characters stare longingly skyward, hoping their loved one sees the same moon.
When John has the choice to come home to South Carolina or to extend his time of service, he bristles with emotion and confusion, actually raising his voice for once in the film. “What do you want from me?” he shouts. “I don’t know how we got here, but all that matters to me is you. I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.” The extent of Channing Tatum’s acting prior to this point involves strutting shirtless along the beach and clenching his jaw.
John re-enlists after 9/11 and fights in Afghanistan. The anxiety associated with looking into mailboxes and running to the mail carrier (unfortunately comprising the rest of the film) wear thin. In a heart-breaking letter, Savannah confesses her engagement to another man.
Dear John portrays the years, and the film, passing without much fanfare. Excitement resumes when Savannah and John reunite after the death of John’s father. When John informs Savannah of his loss, she raises her hands to her mouth in shock, displaying an enormous wedding ring that had the audience laughing. Exhausted by the “cheesy” lines and emotionally manipulative plot line, Dear John did not reward me with a satisfying ending.
The last part of the film left me angry as I questioned the depth of love between Savannah and John. John berates Savannah, “Why didn’t you call me; why didn’t you let me change your mind?” Trapped with more responsibilities than she needs in a loveless marriage to a dying husband, Savannah reasonably loses her sunny disposition and her zest for life.
Dear John ends with many unanswered questions. Its ambiguity leaves the viewer unfulfilled with only a slight hope that their love can be rekindled.
Rated PG-13. Runtime 109 min. Theatrical release 2/5/2010.
PR.com Rating: C+