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1 out of 4 stars


Dear John

  • Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
  • Written by Jamie Linden
  • Starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried
  • Classification: PG

Dear Dear John:

Sorry for the kiss-off, but I can't see you again. Once was more than enough. The fault is entirely mine. A pure and uncomplicated love story, glacially steadfast in your every movement, you're just too good for me. Besides, I need my space right now. I would normally apologize for such trite excuses but, since your narrative heart clearly warms to any cliché, I trust you won't be troubled by mine.

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Okay, perhaps you deserve a fuller explanation. First, I don't mean to be a snob but, as movies go, your heritage is suspect - born from a novel by Nicholas Sparks, a scribbler who specializes in sloppy amour, then brought to the screen by Lasse Hallstrom, a once-respected director who's lately misplaced his better instincts. Of course, that's no reason to condemn you. I was willing to show patience, to play along, and I did just that.

Consider your opening boy-meets-girl gambit, on a beach in the spring of 2001. He - that would be John - is a soldier on leave, a strong/silent Green Beret sort of hero. She's a Southern belle but, really, did you have to call her Savannah? Right quick, you have them making goo-eyes, and kissing in the rain, and, after the customary fun-and-frolic montage scored to the usual sappy soundtrack, falling hard for each other. Now I'm not thrilled by that kind of cinematic behaviour, but nor am I entirely put off by it. On any movie date, wait and see is my critical motto.

So I waited and I saw. For example, I saw your unctuous little plot details - like the happy coincidence that the guy has an autistic father and the gal has a dream of starting a summer camp for autistic kids. I saw the inevitable separation scene, when you packed him back to the army and her to college, whereupon the spring of 2001 turns into 9/11 when, well, his Green Beret doings get a lot more urgent (although no more specific).

Then, to my astonishment, I saw how you had the kids exchanging letters, actual snail mail, that keep getting bundled up and delivered to the front like it was back in the days of the Battle of the Bulge. For a second, I started looking for Nazis. C'mon, it's the millennium, it's the electronic age, where soldiers everywhere fight with one finger on the trigger of their gun and the other on the send button of their cell phone. I mean, an old-fashioned love story is one thing, but dumb-ass anachronisms are quite another.

And don't accuse me of any lack of fidelity. Indeed, along with watching, I was waiting ever so faithfully. And waiting, and waiting, for love's complication, for you to do anything to accelerate a narrative pace that had become as lugubrious as that damn snail mail. But when the complication finally came, it (you) lacked all sincerity and felt - how can I politely put this - bogus.

I attach no blame to your lead performers. Like any actor, the ripped Channing Tatum and the doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried are mere slaves to your script, whose ending (altered from the novel) I nearly choked on. Speaking of endings, let this missive be ours. Pure and simple as you are, so much better than reality's messy takes on love, I have no doubt you will find many willing soulmates elsewhere. But it ain't me, babe, it ain't me you're ... hey, need we belabour this?

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