Andy Bockelman: ‘Dear John’ is literate, laboring tearjerker

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

‘Dear John’

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

Length: 105 minutes

Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried and Richard Jenkins.

The phrase “Dear John” isn’t one that people like to hear bandied about when they’re in a relationship.

But when you’re talking about seeing the movie of the same name, it’s much less daunting.

When Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) meets Sgt. John Tyree (Channing Tatum) in spring 2001, it’s all but love at first sight. The ambitious college student and the Army Special Forces soldier begin an intense and intimate bond for the two weeks while John is on leave from the military.

When they inevitably have to part ways, the two agree to keep in touch with each other by mail, made slightly difficult by John being stationed all over the globe. Still, the correspondence only boosts their feelings, leaving them to count the days when he can come back to the States.

But when the events of Sept. 11 instill the need for additional American troops, John faces an impossible choice between his duty to his country and his commitment to Savannah. And in turn, she is left with the charge of waiting for him at home, which becomes harder as the weeks turn into months and years.

Tatum is getting pretty comfortable playing a soldier, adding John to an increasing list of military roles, along with those from “Stop-Loss” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” The actor is as stiff as he has ever been, but his withdrawn personality actually works in his favor, as John’s guarded, serious nature is part of what draws his lady love to him.

Seyfried is touching as the young woman who captures his heart, an almost saintly sort who strives to work with autistic children after growing up looking after the afflicted son (Braeden Reed) of a family friend (Henry Thomas).

Likewise, Richard Jenkins is utterly believable as John’s introverted father, who shows traces of the mental condition himself.

As a story based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, you have to expect a good deal of melodrama from this romance, which shares many traits with Sparks adaptations such as “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook” and “Nights in Rodanthe.” Virtually none of the plot turns should come as a surprise to the fans of the writer and the movies based on his work, but though the story lacks the sway to be as emotionally fulfilling as it ought to be, it still functions adequately as a testament to the lost art of love letters.

In a world full of e-mails and word documents, society tends to overlook the true dedication involved in putting paper to pen and professing one’s passion. Director Lasse Hallström frames this kind of communication beautifully by leading viewers on a journey requiring patience and maturity, challenging audiences who have grown used to immediate replies and instant solutions.

It all leads to a wistful feeling, leaving the crowd longing to go back to the days when handwritten letters were the standard and buying postage stamps didn’t break the bank.

“Dear John” isn’t liable to remain dear to your heart for a lifetime, but regardless, it’s a respectable entry in the catalog of weepy love stories.

And sadly, far too few of those modern classics of the genre could be appropriately concluded with the sentiment “XOXO.”

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