February 11, 2010

Sparks Don’t Fly in Anticipated Adaptation

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Dear Cornell, Channing Tatum’s irresistibly chiseled body is not enough to make a blockbuster hit out of a sappy love novel.

With a “plot” compiled with every element from any love story ever created: love at first sight, first kiss in the rain, separation, heartbreak, (even multiple disabled characters and fatal illness work their way into the mix), Dear John cannot seem to overcome its clichéd framework. In fact, I haven’t seen a movie this melodramatic since the Notebook, another one of the five Nicholas Sparks novels adapted for the big screen. The biggest difference between this film and the everlasting intrigue of the Notebook? Talented acting. Dear John’s leading lovers John (Tatum) and Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) just didn’t live up to the unmatched chemistry of Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams). Don’t get me wrong, Tatum’s allure is undeniable — I was rooting for him, really I was — but it quickly became painfully apparent that in some cases, beauty is only skin deep. His semi-expressive tone might have matched the unconvincing work of Seyfried, but it certainly didn’t make for an unforgettable love connection. It should be noted though that the gifted Richard Jenkins plays John’s autistic father and provides a few moments of heartfelt emotion into the film.

Under the insightful direction of Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), the movie begins on the beach in Charleston, South Carolina where Savannah Curtis, the rich college student who doesn’t drink or swear and does charity work in her free time, is swept off her feet by tough guy, army sergeant, John Tyree. Conveniently, during the two weeks they have together before she goes back to school and he goes back to the Middle East, they manage to form the most deep and meaningful relationship known to humanity. This undying love, aka total abandonment of reality, is the foundation to that epic cry fest Sparks craves in all of his super sentimental stories.

Eventually the two weeks of bliss come to an end, shirtless Tatum (or Tatum in a white tank top that unavoidably brings you back to his ghetto Step Up days) becomes Tatum in uniform, and the anticipated love letters begin. John expressing the importance of her presence in his foreign and frightening days, and Savannah making futile promises that are so well said they are almost believable. This touching exchange of arbitrary updates as well as a collection of over-adorable montages can be recognized as the “build-up” to the tears.

After one long year of old fashioned romantic correspondence, including one special surprise eighteen hour visit, the couple faces the tragic reality that John will be re-enlisting amid the aftermath of 9/11.

It takes seven years of love letter passion (which takes less than an hour of this just under two hour movie) to reach the anticipated heartache portion, characteristic of any great love story. This sorrow is followed by an overabundance of cruel twists of fate presented in an illogical mess leaving the audience overwhelmed and let down.

However, it should be noted that although screenwriter Jamie Linden and Hallstrom did their best not to stray from the original storyline of the novel, some audience-pleasing changes were made including a new ending filmed merely two weeks before the movie’s release in theaters.

The unrealistic nature of the film aids a plot, fitting with the title, more focused on pain and loss than on happiness. After the realization that this movie was a great tribute to the postal system, which never failed to deliver Savannah’s letters to the depths of the war, it dawned on me that it could have been worse — they could have been texting or tweeting for seven years. My advice: Get your sentimental fix somewhere else this Valentine’s Day.

Original Author: Erin Keene