Dear John presents a mixed bag of messages.
OK, let’s put this on the line now. This is a mother-daughter review team with different tastes. Carol Thompson is an early 60-something retired schoolteacher with a penchant for contemporary romance novels and movies. During convalescence last year after back surgery, she listened to several Nicholas Sparks’ books on tape. And any time, “The Notebook” comes on, she is glued to the television.
I am a wife, mother and editor for Townsend Communications. I have not seen “The Notebook” all the way through, but I am a sentimental individual who does enjoy a sweet movie from time to time. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I could see some girlfriends, wives and other sorts of significant others dragging their guys to the movie theater.
Here is what my mother wrote: Sparks book has a lovely love interest, sadness and a twist of events at the end. The scenery was beautiful, the stars (Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum) were cute to look at and the love story was enjoyable. I thought the ideas on autism were unique especially in a movie of that type. It will probably make some of the audience realize how special autistic people can be. Despite the chance to preview the movie, it still was on my must-see list.”
That being said, the film adaptation of “Dear John,” Sparks’ book of the same name, represented a mixed bag of clichéd contrite romance novel elements with several pleasing snippets that work and work well for me, the daughter.
Having read an interview with writer Sparks, the movie clicks a little more. He said the inspiration for his novel is “Casablanca.” The film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, has her showing up with her Czech Resistance husband at the beginning of World War II. Bogart’s character ends up making a sacrifice for the two of them. Having seen “Casablanca,” I understand the intent behind the sacrifice of John.
Director Lasse Hallström is a quiet director driven to share a quirky story. He directed “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” in 1993; “Cider House Rules” in 1999; “Chocolat” in 2000; and “The Shipping News” in 2001. These are four of his films I have seen and enjoyed. They are quiet story-driven films rather than crazy special effects.
“Dear John” had some lovely images. Not giving any spoilers away, John is shot during the current conflict. As he falls, he remembers a trip to the Treasury Department as a young elementary boy and talks about how coins are minted. As he grows up, we understand that his father and he had some connection with coin collecting, but as a rebellious teen, John turns away. Mr. Tyree, played by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins, is a creature of extreme habit. The father and son have a strained relationship, but a young Savannah, the role played by Seyfried, reignites some semblance of a better relationship. There’s even a nice turn by an adult and bearded Henry Thomas, whose character is a single father of an autistic child — again, a very relevant issue is presented to the audience.
Of course, the other strong image that appealed to me is writing letters. John and Savannah exchange letters during his deployment and her return to college after their romance erupts during a long spring break (he’s on leave). Here is where I actually saw the romantic story arc. I remember my grandmother and grandfather telling me stories of their letter writing while he was fighting in World War II and she was working in an ammunitions plant stateside. She even wrote him a Valentine’s letter in those little candy hearts. I never knew whether the hearts survived the mailing, but the two of them always looked at each with such love when they would tell this story.
So I suppose the movie and book title works, as there finally is a real “Dear John” letter. I can only imagine that as people were able to write and correspond, there have been sweethearts separated by war and eventually the strain on the relationship severed those ties. Toward the end, there’s one minor twist, but if you are paying attention you can guess what happens. So perhaps I walked away from this film with a tepid response that has warmed up, just like the waters off the Charleston coast in the movie.
Perhaps it’s true, we are all minted by our experiences. Sometimes the edges aren’t perfect and the image isn’t centered, but we turn out OK in the end.