Dear John (2010)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dear John

The beaches of North Carolina are filled with students holding beachside parties and spending their days soaking up the sun while on spring break. A soldier in the U.S. Army, John Tyree (Channing Tatum) spends much of his time at the beach surfing, while on a two-week leave. It’s during one of these times that he spots a pretty college student walking the pier with her friends. After impulsively rescuing her bag which had tumbled into the water, John meets Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried). 

Both immediately feel an instant connection and so begins a whirlwind two-week romance. She's a southern girl who doesn’t drink, swear or smoke. He's an upstanding soldier with a checkered past. She meets and bonds with his quiet, reserved father (Richard Jenkins), they go to the beach, and connect over acts and works of charity, all while falling deeper in love thousands of miles from each other. 

As their love grows, they continue to bond over letters with John’s promise to be back and home for good in 12 months. And then September eleventh happens… 

One thing audiences can be nearly guaranteed when sitting through a film adaptation helmed by bestselling author Nicholas Sparks are the tears that the story will inevitably bring, one way or another. Of the other five that have been written to the screen (all are familiar to me), three introduce tragedy that sends at least one character into an emotional tailspin, while another just ends strangely. Luckily for those of us who aren’t all that fond of weeping through a story, Dear John provides an alternative or at least (in my opinion) makes the tears worth something.

Seeing as I’m a person who enjoys a good story no matter its genre (with a reasonable conclusion), I cannot say why I’ve continued to read and subsequently watch this author’s works, except to say, overall I like them. Whatever the reason, I’ve found one to admire bearing his name. That burden falls on Dear John, which is (as of now) by far my favorite. One of its biggest cracks is the slower, quiet pace. More scenes than one would think are set against the war with voice-overs reading aloud the letters John and Savannah exchange. This makes for an unhurried tempo suggesting it would allow the audience to lose interest, but the novel-to-screen story is so good. It becomes something we are enveloped in, and want to be told, unfolding in such a lovingly tender way (in more than one form) that nearly all is forgiven.

War is always a “difficult” topic to incorporate into a script, and I say that meaning, most screenwriters don’t like to have it depicted constructively. Here is no different. This story chooses to “discredit’’ war by blaming the war for personal motivations. By depicting John’s service as the cause of he and Savannah’s differences, the story, whether knowingly or not, holds war to blame. But on the other spectrum, it surprised me to see that instead of being “just a romance,” this was more a story of John’s loyalty and courage in the face of unforeseen circumstances. We see his reluctance to re-up in light of a promise, and ultimately, his anger stemming from these broken dreams.Underneath, we experience his allegiance to his comrades and country, irrespective of those initial motivations. 

Some critics and viewers complained about the characters. In general, no one cared for Savannah one iota, and felt John deserved so much better. For my opinion, the characters were all “likable” and while I did find John’s life to be more upstanding than some leading men, he was far from faultless, just as Savannah was. Where a real problem came in between these two lovers and characters questioning  Savannah’s heart was her expecting something from John after she broke his heart.  Nearly all of Sparks’ works carry the unspoken tagline that tears will accompany, but nothing here compels tears during the in-between goings-on. Maybe it was the acting or just knowing what would occur, there is emotion, but never that heart-wrenching feeling that brings you to tears. Since I had seen these actors in separate roles prior to this, I also wound up loving these two together.

All that to say, there are many things to admire about this script. One being the characters falling in love by letters (such a charming concept); the other were the characters themselves. Seeing their faults eventually come to light was well thought out. Having known how much of the story unfolded beforehand, not much surprised me. Basing a love story around letters was sweet, which is the bulk of the romance’s structure. Sometimes getting to know a person via a hand-written letter can be more meaningful than in person. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to say they fell in love over a two-week period, but you can sympathize some in the excitement of it all, knowing what a short time they had together. Happily the ending is neither “complete” in its potential nor will it be devastating. If the novel is more to your liking, there is an alternate ending that matches it nearly perfectly or so I understand. Generally I would have detested that alternate end, but it wasn’t terrible as it’s not so much a show of the “could haves,” but a sort of farewell that’s an emotionally healthy ending for one character. 

Dear John is a lovely film that is beautifully filmed with flawless shots and gorgeous beach scenery that stays with you after its end, not so much by epic standards, but because we come to see it as a piece of filming that is essentially a “human” story about the characters and their struggles, one that has many things for its audience to relate too. That alone makes this a joy to experience.

(One sensual scene shows tender kisses and caresses, and near nudity, there's a remark about a girl not being the type to “sleep around” and sequences involving snuggling, tickling one another and lots of kissing; John watches Savannah undress. A soldier is shot twice in the back and critically wounded; other soldiers shoot enemies with their weapons; a man punches out three guys after being “goaded.” A few scenes take place on the battlefield, none of which turn graphic in their depiction of warfare. Two characters die; two others are said to have learning disabilities, one having been diagnosed with autism. There are couple of scattered profanities; he** and ba*tar* are each used once; characters drink wine and beers. This is rated PG13.)


  1. Ah, I really liked this movie! Now, I was in the group who did not like the character of Savannah. I don't know, sending "Dear John" letters just isn't my thing.....but I need to watch the movie again and see what I think upon a second viewing

    You are right, though, about Nicholas Sparks. I have seen this one and "The Notebook". Both make me cry =)

  2. I think I've seen nearly all of Nicholas' adaptations and all are just... depressing! This one is actually different, so that is primarily why I like it.

    I actually liked the whole letter-writing-thing; it was sweet. You should watch it again and see what you think - a lot of times a second viewing does improve things. =) I "like" Savannah, but can see why most people don't; she is quite selfish.


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