Monday 25 October 2021

Movie Review: Dear John (2010)

A drama and romance, Dear John enjoys picturesque stars and old-fashioned romance-by-letter, but never rises above elemental cliches.

In the spring of 2001, John Tyree (Channing Tatum) of the US army's special forces is enjoying a vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, where his father (Richard Jenkins) lives. At the beach John meets college student Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) on her spring break, along with her friend Tim (Henry Thomas) and his young autistic son. John and Savannah fall in love, although she notices he has a quick temper. Savannah also befriends John's dad, a soft-spoken coin collector on the autism scale.

John reports back to the army to complete his remaining year of service, and the lovers continue their romance by letter. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, John is obligated to re-enlist, and the long-distance relationship is severely tested.

An adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, Dear John is a predictable sombre romance. Director Lasse Hallström adds a veneer of quality, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfriend make for an appealing photogenic couple, and Jamie Linden's script is bearable. But the good components cannot overcome embedded character triteness and contrived mini-crises.

John is sensitive and brooding, but can also be triggered into violence at the slightest provocation. Channing Tatum therefore wears the same expression throughout, his acting consisting of a chiselled physique and hardened presence. Savannah is pure, innocent, and helpful, placing the needs of others ahead of her own. She is so good that Amanda Seyfried is given little to work with, although she does get to jump-hug onto the relatively gigantic Tatum at regular intervals. 

Predictably, both characters make all the necessary poor and incomprehensible decisions at exactly the wrong times to artificially impose as many obstacles as possible in the path of their happiness.

With Tim's son and Mr. Tyree both on the spectrum, the narrative appears to want to say something about autism, but never quite gets there. Richard Jenkins bring poignancy to the role of John's father, and the bond Savannah forges with him is promising, but the sub-plot is all but abandoned. Equally half-hearted are the father-son travails scattered among the coin collection motif.

In long hand and on paper, Dear John finds little new to write about.

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