Mamma Mia, John's All Alone Again
Up until now I have enjoyed the various adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels, I like how they deliver copious amounts of romantic schmaltz but then deliver a twist as they stick the knife in with something unexpected. But unfortunately "Dear John" failed to do that or more precise it did do it, it did twist and stick the knife in, but it didn't get the emotional response from me, it left me almost numb. Something seems to have been lost in the adaptation. Maybe it's director Lasse HallstrÃ¶m attempt to make "Dear John" less schmaltzy, maybe it's the one sided performances but there is something which just didn't work for me or at least not in the same way as other adaptations have done. That doesn't mean that "Dear John" is a bad movie, in fact it is pleasantly entertaining, mixing sweet romance with drama which I am sure will work for those who have not watched other adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' books but it's not as good as I hoped.
Whilst back home on leave from the army John (Channing Tatum - Public Enemies) meets college student Savannah (Amanda Seyfried - Mamma Mia!) and whilst neither was looking for love they both found it. Over the two weeks they grow closer and closer and even when John returns to active service overseas they continue to write carrying on their love from afar as John has a year less of service to complete. But when following the 9/11 attacks John re-enlists for another 3 years it puts a greater strain on their long distance romance, maybe too much of a strain for one of them.
In many ways "Dear John" is classic Nicholas Sparks as it spends getting on for two thirds of the movie building up the romantic storyline as John and Savannah fall deeply in love over the space of a couple of weeks and then embark on a long distance romance as he returns to active service. It is shall we say all very sweet as their love blossoms full of tender moments and gentle kisses. But what director Lasse HallstrÃ¶m does is to restrain it slightly so whilst it is cliche, it is full of beautiful shot moments of romance it never goes completely overboard and becomes both corny and sickly sweet. Don't get me wrong all this romance is heavy on the schmaltz but it stops short of being cheesy even when we have John and Savannah communicating by letter whilst he's overseas.
And then in typical Sparks fashion there is a twist, something which should be unexpected and unsettling but for some reason it isn't. The twist sort of comes too early and you know that there must be something else to the movie to fill up the rest of the running time. And that is where it goes wrong for me because what follows the twist is a bit of a surprise but doesn't get the emotional response from you because the shock fades as it is all explained away. It made me disappointed because in a perverse way I have liked how in those other adaptations of Spark's novels it has felt like someone has ripped your heart from your chest but here there is none of that.
What also doesn't help is that the story focuses on the character of John and less on Savannah making it harder to get the right feelings when the twist comes. And it is a shame as both Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried put in good performances as John and Savannah especially Tatum who finds the soul of his character to make him 3 dimensional, someone we can feel for. But because when John goes off to war the story focuses on him, it has the knock on effect of making Savannah a 2 dimensional character and one which leaves us muted as to how we feel about her.
The same issue arises with the other characters such as John's father played by Richard Jenkins and Tim played by Henry Thomas. Their storylines are almost ignored in favour of focusing on John's and so when something dramatic happens in their stories it feels unimportant because the characters have remained 2 dimensional.
What this all boils down to is that "Dear John" is for me not the best adaptation of a Nicholas Spark's novel and left me wanting when it came to the shock factor. But it is still entertaining and for those who want a romantic drama which isn't completely obvious will most likely enjoy it, especially the soulful performance of Channing Tatum who impresses with his strong performance.
Tags: Nicholas Sparks