As a guy, I’m pretty much the wrong gender to be reviewing any movie based on a book by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook), but here we are with Dear John, a particularly nasty piece of dude repellent starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried about a pair of pretty young people and their absurdly melodramatic romantic problems.
It starts out in 2001 in South Carolina, where the too-virtuous-to-be-true Seyfried (Mamma Mia!) and Special Forces soldier Tatum meet, fall in love and endure any number of increasingly ridiculous plot devices designed to keep them apart.
Since those devices include autism, strokes, 9/11 and Sparks’ personal favorite, cancer, I assume we’re meant to take this thing seriously, but the script by Jamie Linden treats such life-altering issues with all the gravity of an after school special. They’re there not to be discussed or examined, but to yank tears from your eyes.
Such utter manipulation would actually be kind of tolerable with actors truly capable of showing us their pain. The muscle-bound Tatum (G.I. Joe) is not one of them. He mopes and mumbles his way through the emotional stuff and does a lot of pensive staring. Unsurprisingly, he looks more comfortable in the military scenes or whenever he’s surfing (hence his often being shirtless).
And while director Lasse Hallström is no stranger to tearjerkers, having made Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and An Unfinished Life, those movies at least had some quirk in them. Here the guy is relegated to giving us postcard-pretty shots of South Carolina and its shoreline, and also trying to convince us that Seyfried is an actual adult, as she looks like she’s about 12 years old.
Lending some actual depth to it all are Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), as Tatum’s coin-collecting father, and a bearded Henry Thomas (Elliott in E.T.), whose character figures in the film’s only true surprise. Jenkins’ is an especially touching performance, and I truly felt for him, whereas the histrionics of Tatum and Seyfried merely made me feel ill. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 5/25/10