"Dear John" is the fifth Nicholas Sparks book to be turned into a feature film. As with "Message in a Bottle," "A Walk to Remember," "The Notebook" and "Nights in Rodanthe," the plot is centered around two people who develop a whirlwind romance and end up torn apart by tragedy. No matter the outcome, the two lovers emerge as "better people" because of the relationship they shared.
"Dear John" follows the same formula, but audiences can be relieved that the tragedy is not as predictable as the trailers or the opening sequence makes you believe. While death inevitably plays a part in all Sparks’ stories, it is not the final separator in this film. Instead, human fault and choice are to blame for the lovers’ quarrel — whether that makes the result more tragic or idiotic is still up for debate, but at least it wasn’t completely predictable.
The timeline of their relationship is represented by a montage of scribbled writings on worn paper. The romantics are up to their eyes in mush and the cynics are rewarded for their skepticism when, all of a sudden, Savannah can’t handle anymore waiting and breaks off the relationship, leaving John devastated in Afghanistan.
Starring:Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins, Henry Thomas
Channing Tatum, who is most famous for his roles in "She’s the Man” and “G.I. Joe” plays the title character, John Tyree, a young man enlisted in the Army that gets swept up in the overhaul after 9-11. Though Tatum has made a much more favorable impression in the department of eye-candy than acting, he puts forth a steady effort. Though awkward in the beginning, Tatum does a surprisingly good job of expressing the pain in having to choose between the love of your life and the obligation to your country, in addition to the consequences of that choice. His portrayal of a young veteran with his back against the wall is heartfelt and genuine, an unsuspected improvement from the clich© and contrived roles he’s played before.
Tatum’s performance is pushed to a peak by Richard Jenkins, who plays his autistic father, Mr. Tyree. Their relationship turns out to be the most compelling plot point of the film. Without spoilers, the scene most likely to evoke tears is not between John and Savannah, played by Amanda Seyfried, but a touching reconnection between John and his emotionally estranged father.
If anyone’s performance detracts from the film, it is Seyfried’s — Seyfried comes off as stale, uninvolved and unrelatable. But it’s not entirely her fault. Due to the structure of the story, the audience is never able to sympathize with Savannah, who waits for months-on-end for letters from John. Due to a lack of character development, Savannah goes from hot to cold quicker than a Katy Perry song, for reasons introduced later in the film (which are less than satisfactory).
“Dear John” works for the audience it’s intended for — 14-year-olds with a crush on Tatum and the minivan matinee crowd. But unless you’re looking for a no-brainer chick flick (aren’t we all, sometimes?) steer clear of “Dear John.”