Directed by Lasse Hallstrí¶m. Starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried. Rated PG.
Since his early success with My Life As a Dog, Swedish director Lasse Hallstrí¶m has worked primarily for the sort of people who think Chocolat and The Shipping News are art movies. But aside from those ABBA videos he shot in the ’70s, Hallstrí¶m has never been an outright money grabber—until now.
Watch the trailer for Dear John.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine how he could have put much personal stamp on screenwriter Jamie Linden’s rote adaptation of the latest ode to empty sentiment from Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle). The director appears to have more connection with his beachside South Carolina locations than with the talent. A hint of depth could have been provided by stronger leads than G.I. Joe’s Channing Tatum as special-forces soldier John Tyree, and Big Lover Amanda Seyfried (also in that recent ABBA movie!) as the horse-riding rich girl he falls for. But the leads are attractive blanks upon which young viewers can project their mass-produced fantasies of adult life and romance.
The greatest dynamism comes from Richard Jenkins as John’s coin-collecting father—and that’s one of two autistic characters in a tale that’s all about doing good in a super-general kind of way.
The narrative arc begins in 2001, when the lovers meet and are then separated by events in September of that year. It would be too much to expect such an insipid saga to supply much context to a discussion of duty, sacrifice, and letters from home (hence the not-exactly-ironic title). But the total absence of key words like Bush, Iraq, and nonexistent WMDs ensures that we’re supposed to think that the troubles of two little people are way more important than that crazy hill of beans called the world.