In Review: Dear John

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Oh, Nicolas Sparks!

Are you a fan of Nicolas Sparks and his tearjerker novels? Did you enjoy Amanda Seyfried’s performance in Mama Mia and are interested in seeing more of her work? Could you be looking for the right movie to take your date to? If you answered in the affirmative to any or all of these questions it’s more than likely that Dear John is the movie for you.

Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by the aforementioned author, Dear John tells the all too familiar tale of the sacrifice every service member has had to make. The movie opens in North Carolina in the spring of 2001. Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) is home from college to enjoy her spring break. While hanging out at the pier with her friends, Savannah’s purse ends up getting knocked into the ocean. Ever the hero, John Tyree (Channing Tatum), a soldier on leave from the Army Special Forces, jumps into the ocean to rescue the drowning item. Out of gratitude (and obvious instant attraction), Savannah invites John to come to her house for a cookout and John accepts. At the cookout, John is introduced to Tim Wheddon (Henry Thomas), a lifelong family friend of the Curtis family and the single parent of an Autistic son named Alan. As the week progresses, Savannah and John fall deeper in love. All is well until the day before they are to separate (Savannah must return to college. John has a few more months to serve.). On this day, Savannah tells John that she wants to open a horse farm for Autistic children after watching both Alan and John’s father (Richard Jenkins) deal with their disorder. Having never had his father tested for Autism or even thought that he may have this disorder, John reacts defensively. He rushes off the beach and, when met with opposition, ends up accidentally punching Tim. After having some time to adjust to Savannah’s observation, John apologizes for his behavior. When Savannah sees him off at the airport, they promise to write to each other and have a long distance relationship. Shortly before his service is to end, the 9/11 attacks occur and he is faced with a hard decision. He must decide whether he wants to serve more time with his “brothers” at the risk of jeopardizing his relationship with Savannah or if he wants to leave the military for Savannah and let his fellow soldiers down. When Savannah learns that he will return for another tour, she hesitantly gives him her blessing. However, after much thought, she decides that she can no longer be without John and writes to tell him that their relationship is over. Will John and Savannah one day be able to start where they left off? To learn the answer, you must see the movie!

Directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Shipping News) with a script by Jamie Linden (We Are Marshall), Dear John is an alright movie. Though it doesn’t have the flair of The Notebook (another book by Nicolas Sparks), it delivers on its promise of sentimentality and romance. Unfortunately, as in the case of The Notebook, the ending has been changed. While this point may matter little to someone like me who has yet to read this book, I am well aware that it matters deeply to many fans of Sparks’ work. As far acting is concerned, both Seyfried and Tatum play their parts well though Seyfried does it slightly better. It is clear that these actors share onscreen chemistry, but not as much as one would hope. In my opinion, the performance to watch is that of Jenkins. His years of experience are evident. The young lovers could learn a thing or two from him.

I saw Dear John in a packed theater where it appeared that my guest and I were the oldest people in attendance. As I sat there watching this movie, I felt myself becoming more and more frustrated with these loud teenagers. On screen, this man was fighting for his life in a country many miles away. In that room, these individuals were laughing at inappropriate times, throwing things at each other and making out so feverishly that they were practically creating life in their seats. I wanted to turn around and yell at them to keep quiet and show some respect. Here was this man risking his life for his country, in my mind standing for everyone currently and previously who had chosen to do the same, and here were these kids, safe and wreaking havoc. They would never understand what this man was going through or be touched by what seeing combat can do to one’s life and, in turn, to the lives of everyone who love you. Yet, as I sat there sanctimoniously patting myself on the back for being a quiet twenty-five year old that remembered and respected the former servicemen in her family, something hit me. Many of these “kids” are of the age of enlistment. True, today they are annoying twits who don’t know how to keep quiet, but tomorrow they could easily be a soldier fighting for their country. While this realization didn’t keep me from venting my frustration to my guest once we got into the car, it did help me put things into perspective.

Watching Dear John, I wondered about all of the men and women who had no choice, but to let their significant others (and families) down by extending their tour of duty beyond what they had promised it would be. I thought about all of the lonely companions who wanted nothing more than to hold their soldier tightly, but knew they couldn’t sacrifice their country’s safety for that moment of happiness. While I knew I was only watching a character on screen, I also knew that John had been my dad at one point and could easily be my child at another and this affected me deeply. Still, knowing how attached I am to the people I have in my life, I know I could never be brave or selfless enough to be John. The Johns of this world deserve more credit than many of us give them.

Dear John proves to convey a strong message about the love we feel for one’s country and the romantic love we feel for another. It urges us to remember the many men and women who joined the armed forces despite the risk of personal harm and the loved ones who pray for their safe return. As a movie, Dear John is mediocre and obviously lost a lot in it’s translation from book to screen. As a message, it is profoundly necessary and a tribute to all who have “joined up.” I recommend you pack yourself some tissues if you plan on seeing this movie.

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