February 6, 2010


Just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, “Dear John” is a love story based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (“A Walk To Remember,” “The Notebook”). Judging from the popularity and solid romantic weavings of these earlier novels-to-movies (let’s just skip over “Nights in Rodanthe”), “Dear John” is going to be another favorite.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, John (super-cute Channing Tatum) is a soldier who falls for a college student, Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), while he’s on a leave one summer. The chemistry is palpable and these two really seem meant for each other. But of course there are complications, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say there is a “Dear John” letter involved.

There’s really nothing earth-shaking in the story or the relationship of John and Savannah, except that it’s refreshingly ordinary, and although the sexual tension can be cut with a knife, their blossoming, unselfish love includes other people: John’s reclusive Dad and a neighbor’s autistic son. There are different kinds of love here, all overlapping.

Savannah kind of sets the tone for both of them. She’s a good girl, he’s a reformed brawler, but they’re not so different that they don’t quickly find common ground. These are two very believable characters and two very good actors, so it’s easy to get caught up in their tale. The direction is seasoned and seamless. No gimmicks, not too much melodrama.

Critics despise two kinds of movies: comedies and sentimental tearjerkers, no matter how much audiences embrace them. Is “Dear John” a tearjerker? Not really. I didn’t shed any brine. But it does portray that kind of love that we all want (although the sacrificial aspects of their love are sometimes strained, outlandish, and a bit unfathomable). Actually, a weakness in the story is a never-satisfactorily-explained sort of faithlessness on the part of one of the lovers. But the human heart is fickle. But we don’t want to be reminded of that. Not by Nicholas Sparks. (Dude-what were you thinking? )

“Dear John” also reminds that unselfish love is really, really hard. Waiting can be really, really hard. I am reading “Love and Responsibility” (by the Venerable JP2G) which is so encouraging by its acknowledgment of this, and a philosophical dissecting of the same. During the movie, the Keith Green song kept going through my head: “You Put This Love In My Heart,” reminding me that only God can make us capable of truly self-giving love.

The acting—especially on the part of Tatum--is inspired (and I’m not just saying that because he’s super-cute). What many people don’t realize is that close-up, constantly emotive acting is the toughest kind of acting. While we may think soap operas are cheesy (albeit addictively cheesy), they are proving grounds where actors cut their teeth. Tatum masters a wide range of facial expressions and guymotions (guy-emotions: yeah, I just made that up) that make “Dear John” what it is. There’s a humility to his acting—as though he realizes he’s still new at this, but he’s also a complete, gifted natural. Okay, end of gush.

I don’t like being manipulated any more than the next movie-goer, but what’s wrong with tenderness? Isn’t that what the world needs more of?

“Dear John” never lags, and there are a few lovely twists at the end, but it also feels like there are too many endings, and the final ending is rushed and a little bit meh.

There’s one pre-marital sex scene (not terribly graphic) and one “really bad judgment on the part of a married person” scene. It’s strange to me that sex SCENES can still be PG-13, while three uses of just the “F” WORD warrant an automatic “R”-rating.

Nice modeling of dating conversations.

The war scenes felt authentic, but the lack of some kind of PTSD didn’t feel too honest.

OK. What's with gals wrapping their legs around guys when they kiss, or just say hello? I know this has been going on for a while now, but that doesn't make it OK in my book. It's too much. It's inappropriate. It's explicit. I know they don't mean it to be, but am I alone in this?

Nicholas Sparks seems to like to put actual WRITING in his novels/movies: “Message in a Bottle,”“The Notebook,” “Dear John”—could this pattern have something to do with the fact that he’s involved with the Creative Writing Department at Notre Dame?

Final verdict? Keep cranking ‘em out, Mr. Sparks!

OK—I’m going to put the actual trailer here. I don’t usually do that on purpose because then you’ll think: “I don’t need to read Hell Burns© review! I’ll just watch the trailer and make up my own mind!" OR “Hey, now that I’ve seen the trailer, I don’t need to see the movie!” I put it here to show you the acting chops of you-know-who. This is one trailer that is utterly faithful to the movie. It’s no better or worse than the movie. What you see here is what you’ll see in the movie.

OK, I just checked www.imdb.com and it's not just me. CT has no less than 5 films in development and 3 in production. Case closed.

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