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Philly2Philly Movie Review: Dear John


Dear John is no Notebook. It's no Walk to Remember  either, and that's saying something. Last week audiences flocked to see two hot young stars, Channing Tatum  and Amanda Seyfried  fall in love, and the movie boasted over 30 million in ticket sales. However, if quality is any indication, most of them should have asked for their money back. Dear John—kind of stinks.

Based on the Nicholas Sparks  novel of the same name, the movie takes several liberties in the translation from page to screen. They both begin the same, with officer John Tyree (Tatum) enjoying his brief leave from the armed forces in North Carolina. That time period just happens to coincide with Savannah's (Amanda Seyfried) spring break, and the two connect on the beautiful beach front, which leads to a spring fling. During that time the two fall in love. Meanwhile, Savannah meets John's dad, who is suffering from a mild case of autism. When the two weeks is up, it becomes clear that the love between them is too intense to let go. Dear John

Thus, Savannah proposes an idea. She writes him a letter, and hands it over as she waves him goodbye. "Don't open it until you leave", she asks, and then encourages him to write back once he gets back to his base. This starts a letter correspondence that takes up a good first part of the film. She writes about her life in school, he tells her of his plights in the army, and they both covey how much they miss each other. The two learn history about each other's families, and promise to meet in a year when his service is up.

That year comes to a close and a new problem arises in the form of 9/11. The attacks prompt John's Army buddies to re-enlist and clearly he feels a strong obligation to do so as well. This does not go over well with Savannah, who is really unsure that she can last an additional two years before she sees him again, if he even manages to survive during that time. She hesitantly agrees to wait for him, and so the real test of their relationship begins.

Dear John starts so very strongly that it's just sad to see it crash and burn like it does in the middle and closing acts. The initial chemistry between Tatum and Seyfried is strong, capturing the heartbreak of finding true love and having it suddenly stolen from each other. Furthermore, the letter portion of the story remains strongly effective as well, providing further connection and emotion. Also worth noting is Director Lasse Hallstrom's obvious love of Southern locales, which is captured beautifully. Up to this point, the film seemed to be en route to deliver an epic romance.

Sadly, the whole thing quickly falls apart. The only real development and interaction between John and Savannah lies in those first 40 minutes, and the rest of the film washes it away. The letter angle is almost completely ditched in a maneuver that makes little sense, causing the film to lose focus. If the movie retains any emotional impact, it lies in the later scenes between John and his ailing father, amplified by Richard Jenkins, who gives a dynamite performance. His acting skills are far too superior for this kind of movie. Dear John

Elsewhere, the performances are average. Seyfreid is slightly better, if only because she carries more ability to pull off the dramatic turns of the plot. She also has a natural, bubbly quality, one that helps keep her character engaging in initial scenes. Tatum looks great but is obviously more wooden, and honestly not a great actor. He veers between laughable and in one scene, surprisingly capable, but mostly bad.

Dear John ends on a ridiculous anticlimactic note. It's a serious WTF moment. This alone personifies the problems with Dear John. It's a romance that hasn't been carefully thought through and fails to tie any of the story together in a way that's meaningful or moving. More or less, the whole thing feels like a waste of time. Nicholas Sparks is no Jane Austen, but even his novel deserves better treatment than what plays out on screen.