Published Feb 04, 2010Ever the artisan in capturing the intricate unspoken details of human drama and quiet dissatisfaction without revelling in mealy exposition and shot-reverse-shot tedium, Gilbert Grape director Lasse Hallstrom directs up a storm in Dear John in an effort to give relevance and depth where sadly there is none. In fact, the camera-friendly romantic leads in this saccharine romance entry boast little characterization beyond that of stereotyped fantasy, acting merely as poster children for bland Aryan breeding.
John Tyree (Channing Tatum) is a stolid soldier with a violent past who says little but frequently looks constipated, seemingly contemplating his cookie cutter persona, as outlined in an opening voiceover about coin manufacturing, and obliquely, male assimilation. While home on leave, he meets a comely, virginal, angelic college student bent on helping the less fortunate named Savannah (Amanda Seyfried). She doesn't drink, she doesn't swear and she never loses her patience - ostensibly, she's a male fantasy construct of chastity and virtue. No two romantic leads have come this close to caricature since Jack and Kate shallowly roamed the Titanic.
Paying attention to the timeline present in the film, we know that 9/11 isn't far off, inevitably throwing a wrench into their beachfront frolicking and thunderstorm kisses, leaving a large portion of the film to letter writing and voiceover narration. Hallstrom makes the most of these segments, dutifully following the letters from writer to recipient, paying good attention to the geography and landscape in between.
In this sense, this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks's novel is a professional achievement with a polished, accomplished vision. It's just a shame that the meat of it all comes with so little substance.
While Seyfried proves a pleasure to watch no matter what the role, further solidifying herself as a name to look out for, Tatum suffers from the misfortune of being perfectly cast. Sadly, he is as dull as his character, listlessly filling space with the same blank expression in every scene. But perhaps the target demo will be too preoccupied with his many shirtless scenes to notice. (Alliance)