Friday, February 5, 2010

Movie with Abe: Dear John

Dear John
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Releases February 5, 2010

It’s February, and the year’s first sappy dramatic love story has arrived. Two attractive young people meet and spend two wonderful, fateful weeks with each other, but after that, both must return to their normal lives. He must deploy with Special Forces, while she must return from her spring break to college. Those initial two weeks are filled with romance and wonder, and enhanced by a sense of detachment from reality which must inevitably come to an end. The two remained connected following their departure by a pact to write letters to each other, hence the film’s title.

Given the film’s previews and its seemingly unbearably sentimental premise, “Dear John” is a far better film than many might expect. There’s nothing outwardly wrong with it, and while some might find the story a bit loose, at no point does it become uninteresting. The dual function of the letters as narration works to the film’s benefit, enabling scenes to be annotated with the feelings of both parties, expressing the effect of the long-distance relationship on the geographically divided lovers.

“Dear John” seems particularly interested in names. John and Savannah always begin their letters with the token “Dear Savannah” or “Dear John,” but it goes beyond that. Characters go out of their way to introduce themselves, and dynamics emerge that might otherwise not have. John meets a family friend of Savannah’s, a young boy named Alan, who is autistic. Alan immediately takes to John and yells “Hello, John” as he runs away to go play. John replies with “Hello, Alan,” and the two seem permanently bonded through that simple human exchange. The importance of pronouncing and stating a name is given an added weight by the positive way in which it influences relationships in this film.

When John ships off to war in the midst of 2001, it’s obvious things are going to get ugly. It’s hardly to be expected that the war scenes should have anywhere near the same depth as those in a film like “The Hurt Locker,” since this is first and foremost a love story, therefore the less-than-stellar visualizations of war can be forgiven. This movie’s function as a love story is its primary goal, and lead actors Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried know how to work with that, emphasizing the eternal romance of their connection. It may seem like a film designed only for women, but this male viewer didn’t mind it that much.


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