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Overall Rating
2.93

Awesome: 6.67%
Worth A Look: 40%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy46.67%
Sucks: 6.67%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings



Dear John
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Wake Me Up When The Movie Ends"
2 stars

“Dear John” is an unabashedly old-fashioned tear-jerker in which a pair of extraordinarily attractive people meet cute and instantly fall in love, only to find their presumed long lives of googly-eyed, spit-swapping happiness threatened by secrets, misunderstandings and armed conflict overseas--with just a few minor adjustments here and there, there is very little in this film from a narrative standpoint that couldn’t be found in any number of the titles currently in rotation on Turner Classic Movies during any given month. And yet, while those earlier iterations were often silly, contrived, emotionally manipulative and choked with clichés, the best were made by and for people sophisticated enough to realize that they were silly, contrived and choked with clichés. The trouble with “Dear John” is that its silly, contrived, emotionally manipulative and cliché-choked story has been told in such a overly stiff and relentlessly straightforward manner that it winds up conveying all the passion and excitement of a typical form letter, though without any of the creativity or literary merits of such a thing.

The film starts off in the spring of 2001 as soldier John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and college student Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) meet cute at the beach while both are on leave from their respective lives. Though they come from two different worlds--her from a life of wealth and privilege and he from a hardscrabble existence living with his taciturn coin-collecting father (Richard Jenkins)--they fall in love over the next couple of weeks once they realize that they are the two cutest people in the vicinity, even though their union flies directly in the face of Groucho Marx’s infamous edict about never going to a movie where the man’s chest was bigger than the woman’s. Sure, there are a couple of bumps in the road--John gets upset when Savannah suggests that his dad might have a mild and audience-friendly form of autism and winds up punching a couple of her pals--but they are quickly smoothed over and by the time they finally part, John promises that when his hitch is up in a year, he will leave the military and they will get married.

For the next few months, they express their love for each other via letters and montages and everything seems to be going swimmingly until that darn 9/11 throws a wrench in their plans. Immediately after the attacks, John returns home from overseas on a 48-hour pass to inform Savannah that he has decided to re-up, a move that puts her out considerably, though not enough to prevent her from finally putting out herself. Over the next few years, John continues to voluntarily reenlist and eventually, Savannah can no longer deal with a relationship based entirely on letters and montages and sends him, yes, a Dear John letter. However, this is hardly the end of things as there are still a couple of reels of shocking revelations, tearful reunions and unexpected tragedies for our heroes to endure before a final scene that will have hopeless romantics reaching for their tissues and helpless diabetics reaching for their lancets.

“Dear John” is another film based on a novel by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks and like the other adaptations of his work (including “Message in a Bottle,” “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook” and “Nights in Rodanthe”), it is a shamelessly melodramatic work that goes to extraordinary lengths to bully viewers into tearful submission by deploying virtually every soap-opera cliché imaginable, even the ones that you thought had been forcibly retired years ago. Unfortunately, the once-interesting director Lasse Hallstron, who used to make engaging films like “My Life as a Dog,” “Once Again” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” before taking on such blandly anonymous projects as “The Cider House Rules,” “Chocolat” and “An Unfinished Life,” apparently decided that finding a new approach to such hoary material was unnecessary since the clichés in the material were so old that they might somehow seem fresh to a target audience that presumably has never heard of a Dear John letter before. Unfortunately, this approach is much less effective if you are familiar with said clichés--there is not a single moment in this film that offers viewers anything that they haven’t seen or heard dozens of times before. Yes, the old tearjerkers were pretty silly and manipulative as well but the best ones were made by people who realized that such things are best handled with a light touch to keep things from becoming too overbearing. By comparison, Hallstrom’s heavy-handed yet personality-free handling of the material doesn’t help at all because of actually earning an emotional response through the combination of deft storytelling and compelling characters, the film practically leaps off the screen and mugs you in an attempt to inspire some kind of a response and after a while, I found myself beginning to resenting it for demanding such reactions without ever earning them.

The other thing that older versions of this particular brand of filmmaking had in their favor were actors who had such charisma that they could take weak material like this and make it work based solely on the force of their personalities--if you doubt this, try watching “An Affair to Remember” sometime and imagine what it would have been like without the likes of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. (Better yet, watch the Warren Beatty version of “Love Affair.” Better yet, don’t.) Granted, it is hard to imagine that even the cream of classic Hollywood could have done anything much to help support a storyline this flimsy but they probably would have done a better job of distracting viewers from its flaws than the ones on display here. To be fair, hunk du jour Channing Tatum is actually pretty good during the early portions of the film and demonstrates that he possesses some genuine acting talent along with the preternatural good looks, though not enough to help as both the story and his character sink further and further into implausibility. However, Amanda Seyfried, while admittedly cute as the proverbial button, is so completely devoid of anything resembling a personality that it becomes virtually impossible to believe that so many people in the story could be so besotted with her for any other reason than the fact that the narrative calls for it--when John eventually receives his Dear John letter, you almost want to congratulate him for dodging that particular bullet. As for the usually reliable Richard Jenkins, a man who has made a career out of playing quiet and withdrawn characters (most notably in his Oscar-nominated turn in “The Visitor”), he has been given a character that is so emotionally reticent that if the film had even a trace of a sense of humor or self-awareness, it might have seemed like an inspired self-parody.

Of course, I recognize that I am not exactly the target audience for a film like “Dear John”--this is aimed strictly at teenage girls who will either swarm the multiplexes in packs on Sunday in lieu of watching the Super Bowl or drag their boyfriends as payback for sitting through stuff like “Transformers 2” and “Saw 6.” Will they enjoy it? Quite possibly--they will swoon over Channing Tatum (and Richard Jenkins, to a lesser extent), mentally insert themselves in place of Amanda Seyfried and come away from it thinking that it is kind of like the video for Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” only longer and with a happier ending (an ending that rings so false, even in comparison to everything that has preceded it, that I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it was a hastily-added revision of the original conclusion). On the grand scale of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, it isn’t as good as “A Walk to Remember” (which was fairly intolerable but which did contain a sweet and sympathetic lead performance from Mandy Moore) but it is nowhere near as offensively bad as “The Notebook” (a film so reprehensible in its manipulations that I would gladly start a telethon to transfer the negative onto unstable nitrate stock). On the other hand, on the grand scale of convincing romantic melodramas, “Dear John” falls somewhere between “Antichrist” and “From Paris With Love.”

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19785&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/05/10 00:02:15
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User Comments

10/20/12 Thuy its awesome 5 stars
8/22/10 Rhys More Nicholas Sparks junk. 1 stars
2/19/10 PAUL SHORTT CLICHED, DULL AND STATIC 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  05-Feb-2010 (PG-13)
  DVD: 25-May-2010

UK
  14-Apr-2010 (12A)

Australia
  04-Mar-2010 (M)
  DVD: 25-May-2010




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