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“Dear John" - {Blu-ray}
Chris Pandolfi
Studio: Sony
Release Date:
Special Features:

Deleted scenes, Alternate Scenes, Outtakes/Featurettes/ MovieIQ and BD-Live,plus Interview with ChanningTatum, Amanda Seyfried and director Lasse Hallström.


"Dear John" is an unabashed tearjerker, a romantic melodrama that pumps the audience so full of sap, everyone is liable to leave the theater crying tears of pure molasses. Adapted from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, it's one of those stories where love is sweet, pain runs deep, and feelings are expressed through tender embraces, soft kisses, and phrases like, "We'll be with each other all the time, even if we're not with each other at all." By the end, I felt so emotionally manipulated that I was tempted to forget everything about it that worked and just dismiss it altogether. But a fact is a fact - there are things about it that work, most notably Channing Tatum, who, in spite of yet another role that gives him license to be shirtless, gives his best performance yet. It seems what he gave us in "Fighting" wasn't a total fluke.***

He plays John Tyree, a young Special Forces specialist for the army with a history of causing trouble, most of which is only alluded to. In the summer of 2001, while on leave in his hometown of Charleston, he meets a college student from a rich family named Savanah Lynn Curtis (Amanda Seyfried), and the two immediately hit it off. But almost as soon as he arrives, it's time for him to leave again. Savanah is crushed. John makes her a promise, apparently not aware of the fact that in movies like these, promises were meant to be broken. They decide to correspond via handwritten letters, which they keep up over the next few months despite his grueling military operations overseas. Then things start getting in the way. 9/11 happens. John extends his tour of duty. And then, one day, Savanah stops sending him letters.***

We meet a few important side characters. There's John's father (Richard Jenkins), an autistic coin collector who can find no topic of conversation other than his collection of coins. He also lives life according to a routine, baking meatloaf every Saturday and lasagna every Sunday. Then there's Savanah's close friend, Tim (Henry Thomas), a soft-spoken single dad who doesn't have the heart to tell his autistic son that his mother isn't coming back. They're both developed in ways that raise the question of why stories like this require someone to be suffering at some point. Does everything in a Nicholas Sparks drama have to be a tragedy?***

All the same, there are select scenes between Tatum and Jenkins that are genuinely touching. One in particular, shown in the latter half of the film, requires both to not only be believable, but emotionally vulnerable as well. Regardless of the less than upbeat screenplay, they manage to pull it off. Jenkins in particular is persuasive, playing his role subtly and not as a mentally challenged stereotype. He is, quite simply, an isolated man who loves his son but doesn't know how to express it as others might. His financial situation is a mystery, and it's unclear as to how he could invest is so many valuable coins, but never mind; this is the kind of movie were matters of the heart outweigh matters of plot.***

Credit also to Seyfried, whose youthful charm and graceful looks defy the weepy plot. Savanah comes across as someone you could actually care about, even after she finally sends him a new letter after months of no correspondence. It can't possibly be a secret that the title is a play on words.***

The unfortunate flaw with movies like this is that every kiss, every fight, every term of endearment, and every shed tear is at the service of a hopelessly contrived plot. For me, this means that it will have little to no effect. I can't feel a certain way when a movie is telling me that I'm supposed to feel that way. The success of any filmmaker rests on his or her ability to manipulate you without letting you know you're being manipulated; director Lasse Hallström and writer Jamie Linden are so brazen in their efforts to make the audience cry that the end result seemed less like a movie and more like a psychological evaluation. Given the box office success of other Sparks adaptations - like "A Walk to Remember," "Nights in Rodanthe," and "The Notebook" - it's pretty clear that many will pass with flying colors.***

Special Features:

Deleted scenes, Alternate Scenes, Outtakes/Featurettes/ MovieIQ and BD-Live,plus Interview with ChanningTatum, Amanda Seyfried and director Lasse Hallström.

Final Words:

I guess this means that I fail. While I certainly can't fault the actors for doing the best job they could possibly do, I just can't bring myself to feel anything for a film this cloying. "Dear John" is overwrought and sentimental, a film made for reasons no deeper than toying with our emotions. Had a more compelling story been told, had it bothered with an idea based in reality, I wouldn't have minded being toyed with. That is, after all, how some of the best movies work. Maybe Nicholas Sparks needs to rethink his approach to storytelling. Hopefully, that will put an end to the idea that young lovers should always be trapped in needlessly heartbreaking stories with overly solemn characters.


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