Movie Review: Dear John


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* out of *****

Sitting in a crowded theater waiting for Dear John to appear on the silver screen, a man asked, “Why are we seeing this?”

After viewing Nicholas Sparks’ latest book-to-film adaptation, the question still remained. Dear John lacked both substance and any real romantic chemistry between its two main characters.

The movie follows soldier John Tyree (Channing Tatum) as he falls in love with good girl Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) while on a two-week leave from the army. With only a year of active duty left, the two are optimistic that they can make the relationship work. But after 9/11, John feels compelled to extend his contract, and time and distance begin to take a toll on the young couple.

The biggest issue in Dear John is its lack of depth. The film fails to establish a strong, loving relationship between the characters and instead keeps the two leads kissing and gazing at each other. Montage after montage is used to show their deep adoration for each other, but it never truly comes across.

Rather than explore the reasons for their love, the film falls back on the old Hollywood standby — a reliance on physical attraction. While the two look cute together, they do not seem to have much in common. Savannah is a wealthy, educated good girl, while John is a poor, uneducated bad boy.

Tatum plays a convincing and handsome lovesick puppy. However, Seyfried’s Savannah is flimsy and uninterested. She acts like a rich, spoiled loose goose who just cannot wait for her Army boyfriend to come home. Seyfried’s forced and stiff acting also does little to help her poorly developed character.

What rescues Dear John is the relationship between John and his father, played by Richard Jenkins. The pair’s strained bond is the most realistic and heartfelt part of this romance movie, and their relationship is by far the most endearing. Jenkins gives a terrific and heartbreaking performance as a father unable to communicate with his son.

But the most disappointing part of the film is its decision to stray from the novel. Fans will certainly be disappointed with Hollywood’s twisting of the characters and plot. What made the book interesting was the strong connection Sparks developed between John and Savannah during their two weeks together, something the movie ignored.

Despite the duo’s poor development, the flick does do a good job of conveying the hardships John faces. As both narrator and main character, John is the one viewers will find themselves caring about most. The pressures he faces as a soldier are grueling and realistic, and they make for a thoughtful, mature lead compared with his flimsy love interest.

So why see the film? If nothing better to do comes along than watch some montages of a good-looking couple fall in love, Dear John is the film to see. Otherwise, save the money. Many more films (500 Days of Summer, for example) have been able to establish a more satisfying romantic connection. Dear John falls short. It does nothing new nor does it ever develop into a thoughtful, meaningful film.

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