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Dear John: Love in a Post 9/11 World
Dear John’s claim to fame is that it knocked Avatar out of the number One spot of the US box-office, breaking the blue flick’s seven-week dominance. It’s a mild tearjerker that will get you all warm and fuzzy inside then gently remove its traces once it ends. Is it good, or is it bad? If you’re already interested, then chances are you’re going to like it.
Based on a Nicholas Sparks romance novel of the same name, the film introduces us to John (Tatum), a young sergeant on short leave to visit his hometown. He comes across Savannah (Seyfried). The two of them are gorgeous and fall in love right away; only they don’t have enough time. John leaves to serve his country and promises his love that he’ll come back after he fulfils the year left to his service. In turn, she promises to stay in touch via old-fashion love letters, all of which start with the warm ‘Dear John’.
The couple, with the rest of the world, watches in horror as the two towers fall and realize the unforeseen circumstances. So Savannah does the only thing left to do and ends the relationship. Poor John reenlists indefinitely to distract himself from the pain. Sad, yes. Manipulative, hell yes; but the hardships are the only reason that we watch these films anyway.
Channing Tatum is a heartthrob with a moderate range as an actor. At his best, he comes off as a collected Josh Hartnett impersonator, and at his worst he gets stiffer than a lump of coal. Dear John might be his first real challenge as an actor, and he fares alright. He’s lucky that he’s got the talents of Seyfried to hold his hands throughout the ups and downs of their doomed love. She’s a promising young starlet that imbues her generic turns with a sense of integrity missing from many performances by her peers.
Director Lasse Hallstrom helmed the romantic films The Cider House Rules and Chocolat but there is none of that gravitas found in Dear John. Instead, the film is bittersweet by design. For fans of the genre, here is a film that wallows in familiar Kodak moments and gives you exactly what you want. For the rest (Read: guys); steer away.
The first half focuses far too much on Kelsey and Lynette and not enough on say, Rebecca Hall who plays Alan’s sister Mel. In fact, the film in general is pretty light on Hall and she just randomly drops out of the film without having her arc tied up, even though she’s the most magnetic performer in the whole thing. Canterbury, on the other hand, has far too big a part and while he’s decent as Kelsey, his pouting does become a bit one-note after a while.
The second half is, thankfully, far superior, mainly because Alan and Ben grow out of their immaturity and are forced to make some big decisions that shed some light on their relationship and back story. This is also where Sandvig and Ritter’s chemistry shines. They really nail the old friends dynamic and it stretches and warps as a wedge is driven between them, challenging their entire way of life.