Stars: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins and Henry Thomas
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Scriptwriter: Jamie Linden based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Composer: Deborah Lurie
Cinematographer: Terry Stacey
Rating: PG 13 for themed material and violence
Running Length: 106 minutes
The term Dear John has become synonymous with rejection. Ouch, even to think of that term hurts. So in this romantic film from Nicolas Sparks novel (remember him from The Notebook) and directed by Lasse Hallstrom you can expect rejection, but with a sort of twist. The rejected turns it around in a different way. The film is also a study in autism. Bring hankie to film. The photography by Terry Stacey adds to the film with beautiful vistas which is a signature of Nicholas Sparks movies. The two young stars, rising rapidly in Hollywood, are Channing Tatum (G. I. Joe) and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia), They have screen chemistry and play exact opposites. He is someone who canít express emotion while she is all emotion. Love moves in mysterious circles.
The story has Channing home on leave from the military. He meets Amanda at a beach when her valuable purse (never explained) drops into the ocean. He dives and gets it and a friendship starts with Amanda inviting Channing to a party that evening. She is clearly attracted to him, and he with her, though they keep each other at armís length. She has other boys interested in her. Amanda seeks out information about Channing and his family (mother deceased, raised by rather cold father), and Channing learns that Amanda has a close friend, Tim (Henry Thomas and remember him as the boy in E.T.) whose wife has passed away. Tim has an autistic son he is raising alone and this boy has bonded with Amanda and surprisingly, with Channing. After meeting Channingís father (Richard Jenkins,) Amanda suggests that perhaps Dad has Asperserís Syndrome to explain his ďcoldnessĒ toward people, but Channing is defensive and gets angry. Through the years, Amanda and Channing write to each other, but it is after 9/11 when Channing reenlists without talking it over with Amanda, that they start to grow apart. Eventually, he gets the ďDear JohnĒ letter and the announcement that she has found someone else. More time passes and Channing is back in town. He meets Amanda and finds she has married Tim and that Tim is not well. About this time, Channingís father is ill, and all the people involved have to deal with their particular issues at this time.
Dear John deals with two aspects of autism. The form the young boy has in which it is easily recognizable (panic attacks, no emotion, orderly behavior) and Asperserís Syndrome (see the film Adam with Hugh Dancy), which is a milder form and the person can function in society, though may be considered eccentric. In Johnís Dadís case, he could work, and his emotion was centered on his coin collection, though we see he loves John, but just canít express it. There is a tender moment in the film when Johnís Dad is in the hospital and John is visiting. John is sitting quietly by the bed, when (and this is all the audience sees) Dadís hand slowly comes up and cups Johnís cheek tenderly. John responds with tears in his eyes and gently places his hand over his fatherís hand. You can imagine this may have been the first time this type of emotion has been shown in this family.
The problem with filming a book from a novel (or a play) is that acts or chapters become scenes and there are abrupt changes, which may leave the audience dangling. Such is the case here, when years pass, characters come and go and nothing is explained. I think a better job could have been done with the script. Many critics are complaining about the lack of acting for Channing Tatum (frequently seen shirtless), but my take is that he was raised in a household with little or no emotion and lives that while at home, but when in the military is a different person (friendly with his unit). I think the acting was well done for the entire cast, especially Richard Jenkins who has body language down to a science. The audiences see something in Dear John_, for it is taking a grab of the box-office away from Avatar.
Copyright 2010 Marie Asner
Copyright © 1996 - 2010 The Phantom Tollbooth