[Screen It]

"DEAR JOHN"
(2010) (Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An Army Special Forces sergeant and a college student try to carry on a long distance relationship both before and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
PLOT:
John Tyree (CHANNING TATUM) is a sergeant in the Army Special Forces who's on leave and thus staying with his dad (RICHARD JENKINS) at their South Carolina home. The two don't have much to talk about -- what with John not knowing how to deal with his father's social interaction issues and obsessive fixation on collecting coins -- and thus the soldier spends much of his time surfing. It's at the beach that he meets Savannah Curtis (AMANDA SEYFRIED), a pretty college girl who's home on spring break.

After John rescues her bag when it falls into the ocean -- much to the chagrin of Randy (SCOTT PORTER) who obviously likes her -- the two are instantly smitten and quickly become a romantic item over the next two weeks. She ends up becoming attached to his dad, while he takes a liking to her longtime friend, Tim (HENRY THOMAS), and his young, autistic son, Alan (BRAEDEN REED).

When John returns overseas to serve under the command of Captain Stone (KEITH ROBINSON) and Savannah heads back to school, the two agree to keep in constant contact via handwritten letters. Yet, as time passes and an unexpected development shakes the nation and world, the two must contend with growing apart and the possibility that keeping their long distance relationship going might be harder than they imagined.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
For today's young generation, keeping in contact with others is pretty much an instantaneous thing. Whether it's using texting, video calls or even email, such contact takes just seconds to complete. There's also the phone, but that seems so 20th century nowadays. Of course, back before all of that Internet technology, and if a phone wasn't available or was too expensive to use (when every long distance call cost you), people resorted to the sending of letters.

And the majority of them were painstakingly handwritten, not to mention well thought out, especially when it came to matters of the heart. Today's kids will likely never know the effort of carefully choosing one's words, stuffing the envelope and then waiting days if not a week or more for a reply. The most welcome letters long ago were those to and from those serving in the military, especially when overseas.

Accordingly, mail call was (and in some circles still is) the highly anticipated highlight of the day, when romantic, family and/or just friendly correspondence would arrive from back home. That is, except when such communication came in the form of the "Dear John" letter. While the origins of that aren't exactly clear -- although it most likely stems from that being a popular name back in WWII when the phrase became popularized -- no guy wanted to receive one as it meant the wife or girlfriend was dumping him, usually for someone local and more readily seen.

It isn't likely many guys will want to see "Dear John" either, regardless of whether that's while it's in the theaters, or later when it arrives on DVD and regular TV. Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by American author Nicholas Sparks -- the same novelist who's gotten the waterworks flowing in many a female viewer while terrorizing the men folk with the likes of "Nights in Rodanthe," "The Notebook," "Message in a Bottle" and such -- this is yet another manipulative tearjerker.

Set immediately before and then after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., it's about an Army sergeant and college student who fall for each other over a two-week summer stint. They then try to keep their romance going -- via handwritten letters -- despite the time and distance apart, as well as their differing views about him re-upping his commitment to the military.

Considering the premise, the old-fashioned letter writing and the title of the piece, it's no surprise that the "Dear John" opening of her side of the correspondence will likely segue from the loving and longing type to "sorry, but I'm kicking you to the curb." Some if not many female viewers will react emotionally to that as well as the other related bits. But the impersonal dumping isn't likely the thing that will irritate guys (or some women -- the most audible hecklers at our screening were some in the "fairer gender" category) the most.

Instead, it will be the fact that the film -- directed by Lasse Halstrom from a screenplay adaptation by Jamie Linden -- is basically a series of montages (and a lot of them) connected together by various bits of "standard" filmmaking.

The plethora of voice-over narration (stemming from the obvious need to verbalize the content of said letters in some fashion) could also be the onerous culprit, as well as the piling up of various conditions and afflictions (including autism, a separate case of what's likely Asperger's Syndrome, cancer, a stroke and, of course, the 9/11 elements). All of that's meant to get sensitive viewers weepy, but it's fairly egregious and unfairly seems to dare those who see through the garbage dump to make fun of how bad everything is.

Then again, it might just be the stiff acting (when not in romantic, lovey-dovey mode, the moments of deeper emotion strain the thespian abilities of some of those involved -- namely the leads, although Richard Jenkins acquits himself), the fact that the romance feels fabricated and calculated rather than naturalistic, and/or a combination of any or all of the above that quickly turns this into the cinematic equivalent of nails down the proverbial chalkboard.

I suppose it's appropriate this is being released on Super Bowl weekend as counter programming when most men (and many women) will be glued to their TVs and will shoot a "You're kidding, right?" look to their significant other should they propose an outing to see this dreck.

Then again, the look will probably exist year round once word gets out -- via instant social media rather than old-fashioned letter writing -- about how bad it is. The leads are attractive but that's pretty much it in "Dear John, a film that's deserving of being dumped as tactlessly as the title behavior and thus rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed January 28, 2010 / Posted February 5, 2010


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