Nicholas Sparks' novels have been fodder for Hollywood studios for some few years now. Six of his films have been adapted onto film (including one coming out in a month's time, "The Last Song" starring Miley Cyrus) and some of them have been of relatively moderate success. This latest adapation of Sparks' works stars two of Hollywood's fastest rising stars, Channing Tatum ("G.I. Joe") and Amanda Seyfried ("Mamma Mia!", "Jennifer's Body") and is directed by Lasse Halstrom who directed "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?", a film I studied in high school that I really enjoyed.
Tatum stars as the titular character, John Taree, a soldier in the US army who, while on service leave, meets and falls in love with Seyfried's character, Savannah. After helping Savannah retrieve her bag of possessions, the two bond, become intimate and eventually fall in love after two weeks. As Spring draws to a close, Savannah has to go back to college while John has to go back and serve his country overseas. During their time apart, they write each other letters but something terribly tragic happens to John and his unit which prompts him to stay overseas much longer than he originally anticipated. This, in effect, puts a strain on their relationship and tests their relationship's limits.
This was a really convoluted film. It was just all over the place and couldn't really settle down. I'm quite disappointed with the direction because I thought this was a film that Halstrom would have no trouble navigating around. A good example of this is the long sequence where both John and Savannah were writing each other. Nothing was really happening during that sequence other than the fact that you had both actors narrating each other's letters. I found it to be quite boring because it didn't really move the story forward and didn't really add any character development or momentum.
It is also convoluted in the fact that the film tried to do way too much. I think this is the problem with adapting books onto film as screenwriters and/or directors have to decide what to keep and what to throw away so that the film still respects the book. There are two subplots in the film that, I thought, were much better and interesting than the main plot of the film. The first subplot showed the relationship between John and his father (which I thought was wonderfully handled) and the second subplot involved a father and his mentally handicapped son. As I said, both were much more interesting than the main plot but it also brings the overall narrative down because it feels as though they added way too much. I understand that the film-makers feel they must respect the book but they have to keep in mind that some material doesn't translate well on film.
Having said that, I did think that the acting brought out in each story was done well. It's not bad but it's not good either. Channing Tatum, an actor who hasn't impressed me at all, was actually surprisingly passable and okay in this film. This subtler performance from Tatum is much better but it's only a small step up from his last starring film, "G.I. Joe". One thing that annoyed me with Tatum though was the fact that he would always grind his teeth together. It was really, really annoying. Amanda Seyfried turns in a decent performance also but, at least to me, I didn't feel the chemistry between the two which is why I thought the two other subplots were far better. The romance wasn't as developed as I imagined it would've been (I came in expecting something grandiose like "The Notebook") so there was nothing really that made me feel interested in their relationship. I think this is largely due to the fact that most of the film, they aren't together on screen and are only writing and narrating each other's letters.
Also, and I know a lot of people would agree with me on this as well, but two weeks for them to fall in madly in love seems almost improbable. One has to really embrace or accept Hollywood's version of love in order to accept this movie. I had a problem with this concept which deterred my viewing experience a little bit.
I should also mention that the movie is long and moves really slowly. Things began promisingly enough and then started losing it's way, during the middle when they were both away, and then slowly found it's way back afterwards. There was one point in the film where I thought everything would end (and had it ended there, it would've been so much better) but it kept going and ended in a disappointing letdown. Should I blame Sparks for writing it this way?
At the end of the day, Dear John is just another forgettable film that could've had a lot going for it. Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried and the supporting cast turn in decent performances but slow pacing and a misplaced sense of direction lead "Dear John" down.
"Dear John" gets a 2/5.
___________________________________________________P.S. I saw this film on the Xtremescreen at Hoyts. Honestly, why was this film on Xtreemescreen? It's a few dollars extra to watch it on Xtremescreen but it's not a movie that needs or requires a massive screen and bigger sound. Save that for sometihng more grandiose. Well, at least I get to see Amanda Seyfried with higher resolution. =\