Dear John continues the Valentine's Day movie massacre on the multiplex. Dear John scraps the comedy and goes full-tilt for romantic drama, and if it were good, all would be forgiven.
Unfortunately, Dear John is more difficult to sit through than a comedy because at least a comedy is light and fun, whereas this is full of heavy-handed saccharine and is so ponderous it feels endless. Neither of those things are compliments. I know it's early in the year, but Dear John is an early contender for worst film of 2010.
John (Channing Tatum) is in the Army. He is on-leave in South Carolina for quiet from the danger of his Special Forces unit. He's home and surfing all day, eating Sunday lasagna with his mute, coin collecting father when he meets a girl named Savannah (Amanda Seyfried). Savannah seems more sweet and innocent than John thinks he deserves, but they begin to spend time together.
The pair would seemingly be a mismatch: brutish soldier with a reputation for violence around town (he has the knife-fight scars to prove it) and a girl who doesn't drink or smoke (although she curses a lot in her head, or so she says).
Although there's something hidden below the surface of John, Savannah lets him into her world and quickly after the pair meet, they are standing on the beach, underneath a full moon, discussing its various properties. Anytime a film has multiple shots of moons and characters talking about the moon, you know it's the kind of romance that clubs you on the head as you watch it. Subtle, Dear John ain't.
Trouble is, John will soon be returning overseas to service, and Savannah will be going back to college. They will spend the next year apart as John has his last 12 month stretch in the Army before they can be reunited. The pair spent a whopping two weeks getting to know one another, but love is love and they are in love. One year is a long time; 365 nights apart; 525,600 minutes. That's a long time.
Since John is going to be fighting in remote, unknown locations, where there will be no e-mail, computer or hope of phone conversations, the pair promises to write everything about their lives in letters. Everything.
So begins a series of back and forth communication the old fashioned way--handwritten letters. They write dozens and dozens of letters. The film shows their separate lives via their letters, while utilizing clunky narration as they talk and listen to one another, all through the letters. Soldier and his sweetheart writing odes to one another? I warned you it was syrupy.
Based on a novel by a writer who specializes in the simple minded tearjerker, Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook), and directed by a one-time competent director in Lasse Halstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape), Dear John is a harmless confection of sentimental melodrama whose earnestness is worn so completely on its shoulders that I felt irritated from pretty much the very start of the movie. The problem was my exasperation never let up.
I wasn't able to commit to either John or Savannah despite all of the overkill twinkling piano, plucking acoustic chords and swelling strings. The manipulative story, or the script that is a hackneyed collection of groan-worthy clichés, didn't win me over either. Dear John wants to pull you into the romantic gravity of the characters' great love, but their relationship is so bland, pedestrian and lifeless, it is impossible for that to happen.
While there are a lot of issues with the film (see above paragraph for a couple of them) a point of blame can start with the casting of Tatum as one of the leads. How can I put this nicely? Tatum is truly one of the worst young actors getting big roles in Hollywood (Fighting, G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra). He is a terrible actor.
Tatum is turning into the new Matthew McConaughey on the block. This means laughable performances and an attraction to roles that require him to take off his shirt to show off the rockin' bod he possesses.
Tatum throws down the shirtless gauntlet to McConaughey in Dear John as he's sans shirt in less than two minutes. Tatum's role as John has him trying to tackle a variety of emotions such as brooding, moody, angry, sad and tormented, but Tatum seems wooden and unresponsive in everything he tries. At least he's consistent.
I'm an old school romantic AND letter writer, but Dear John did nothing for me. I didn't feel a thing for these characters and for a romantic drama like this--that is utter failure. Very rarely do I wish a film would hurry up and end as it is unfolding, but I found myself thinking that thought again and again.
If true love is as insipid, unromantic and uninteresting as what we see in Dear John, I'd prefer to live as a loner the rest of my life. Take that Valentine's Day!
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