Play It Again
Tearjerker appeals to the weepy
By Roxana Hadadi
Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks probably lives by the cliché, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s really the only way to describe the similarities between his 2004 smash book-turned-film hit, “The Notebook,” and the latest adaptation of his work, “Dear John” – the two share some of the same character development and romantic twists and turns. But while “Dear John” doesn’t live up to the classic-ness of “The Notebook,” it’s certainly a sickly sweet and shamefully enjoyable love story. Six years ago, when Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams portrayed poor boy-rich girl lovers Noah and Allie, women everywhere took notice: The “Titanic”-like tale of pursuing love against all odds made $115 million at the box office, is shown practically every weekend on the Oxygen Network and even got the gossip blogosphere’s attention when Gosling and McAdams started dating – and then eventually split ways – in real life. And it’s obvious that Sparks and the people behind “Dear John,” such as director Lasse Hallström (who also directed the critically acclaimed “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat”) and screenwriter Jamie Linden (whose only other credit is “We Are Marshall”), hope to recreate the same success with “Dear John.” The film focuses on another young working-class boy and well-off girl who fall in love while on vacation, must part ways soon after and are then separated by war – but instead of World War II, the conflict this time is the war in Iraq – and the girl’s eventual love for another man.
Things start off, and mainly stay, from John Tyree’s (Channing Tatum, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) point of view, as he is shot twice in the field and looks back on his life before blacking out. First, he describes remembering a trip to the U.S. Mint, where he saw countless coins being created; compares himself to that process – “I am a coin in the United States Army,” he says – and then says the second thing he remembered was “You.” “Dear John” then goes back to 2001, where John is surfing in Charleston, S.C., and dives into the ocean to save the purse of a beautiful blonde, Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried, “Jennifer’s Body”), who then invites him back to her family’s beach house for a barbecue. Soon, the two are spending more and more time together, going to dinner at a nearby seafood place – where Savannah learns that John had a bad-boy past, including a knife fight at that very restaurant – and helping build a house for a town resident whose home was severely damaged by a storm. But soon, it’s time for John to go back to his post in Germany and Savannah to college; their two weeks of spring break bliss over, they swear to constantly write each other – transcribing everything that happens so they’ll always know what the other is up to – and to always look at the full moon – which will be the same size for both of them, wherever they are.
Dozens of letters later, though, Sept. 11 happens, inspiring John to sign up for another tour of duty (much to Savannah’s chagrin) and help set in motion a sequence of events that could tear them apart. Sure, the film ends in a somewhat expected way – although it deviates somewhat from Sparks’ original novel – but if you’re a hater of gushy romances, then you wouldn’t be watching this movie, anyway. For those looking for solid romantic chemistry, Seyfried and Tatum deliver: The development of their relationship is touching and believable, from when they reconnect during his time on leave to their pining for each other when they’re far apart. (It’s also not that physical: There’s a rain-soaked make-out scene – Sparks’ trademark – and one sex scene, but it’s very shadowy and includes no nudity.) And overall, Tatum’s performance – especially the scenes with his on-screen father – are surprisingly powerful, far more subtly impactful than anything he’s done up until this point (granted, his other performances include the films “Step Up” and “Fighter”). Nevertheless, “Dear John” isn’t perfect – but mainly that’s because of Sparks’ novel and the major twist he creates as an obstacle for John and Savannah, which some people may scoff at. But if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, the film is one of those embarrassing guilty pleasures, the kind of movie that will goofily reaffirm both your hope in love and your amazement at Hollywood’s ability to produce happy endings. Sparks sure does have this formula down pat – well, “The Last Song” looks pretty awful. But “Dear John,” not so much