starring Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Henry Thomas, Richard Jenkins
screenplay by Jamie Linden, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
directed by Lasse Hallström
by Ian Pugh Movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels--sentimental drivel, functionally identical--usually just bounce off my chest, but we all have our limits. Once more into the breach as Princess Prettygirl (Seyfried) falls head over heels for Johnny Bluecollar (Tatum) in a spectacularly awful Harlequin romance that juggles metaphors about coins and the size of the moon while boasting only the vaguest understanding of the English language. Dear John is little more than a rehash of The Notebook, a movie I found tedious but, again, ultimately innocuous. Yet there's a mysterious "x" factor at work in this one that attacked some vital nerve and reduced my brain to petroleum jelly. Could be that Lasse Hallström finally found the perfect vessels for the source author: Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum--actors, both, whose deadwood talents fail to stretch past sheer bewilderment. (I kind of hate Ryan Gosling as an actor, but he undoubtedly elevated The Notebook.) There's a point very early on where Seyfried remarks, "Wow, you made a fire," as her future beau demonstrates his ability to jumpstart a little kindling--and the complete lack of sarcasm (or really any emotion) in her voice led me to wonder if Tatum was going to club her over the head and drag her back to his cave. It's not an unreasonable conclusion: most of these movies forge conflict out of the idea that women are property, and Dear John is no different.
They go through the motions, all right, as no insulting genre convention is left unturned. He's a jealous, meathead bad boy; she's a doe-eyed doorstop waiting around for a man; and their two-week courtship ends with a mutual promise to write each other during John's time abroad as a Green Beret. Then 9/11 postpones their reunion indefinitely. What is it, exactly, that keeps the flame burning after so many years apart? Wish I could tell you. Frankly, I'm still stumped over how a relationship founded on random interjections could possibly evolve into a letter-writing campaign. Shocking no one who knows what a "Dear John" letter is, our central couple eventually breaks up, and so commences the standard round of whys and wherefores as he twitches with something resembling disapproval. Admittedly, it's difficult to tell how anything happens when every turning point in this love affair, every single moment that has the slightest potential to say something, is communicated via a comfortably distant montage. About sixty percent of this fucking thing is told in montage, come to think of it, and for all its cliché pop-folk accompaniment to that end (just as bland alt-rock dominated A Walk to Remember and historically-appropriate big-band inundated The Notebook), the only thing missing is an Air Supply ballad to justify burning the negative.
Autism replaces cancer and Alzheimer's as the bogey infliction this time around (at least until cancer comes up the rear in the third act), with his father (Richard Jenkins, who seems trapped by incompetent direction) and her six-year-old neighbour (Braeden Reed) jittering and swaying in the background long enough for our lovebirds to offer a few piteous glances that will ennoble the living shit out of everyone. Princess Prettygirl offers that autistic people have a "horse sense" that allows them to discern good from evil, which, like every reference to anything with any basis in reality in this piece of shit, is extraordinarily condescending--why, it's almost like they're human, or something. (Don't be shocked that the movie has no idea how to write for our men and women in uniform, either.) There are countless reasons to call Dear John offensive, none more egregious than its full-on assault against common sense. The dialogue is characteristically improbable, and this time there's practically no indication that it was even written on this planet. As far as I'm concerned, nothing is ever going to beat New Moon's three-month mopefest for pure maudlin ineptitude in a purported romance picture, though the entirety of Dear John makes a daring, hilarious, and all-around horrendous bid for second place. Originally published: Febuary 5, 2010.