Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Premise: An American soldier (Channing Tatum) becomes romantically involved with a college student (Amanda Seyfried) while on leave. As he returns to duty, the two continue their romance through letters but distance and exterior forces begin to take their toll on the couple.
What Works: Dear John has some very strong performances. Channing Tatum’s range as an actor (to be charitable) is limited but his minimalist emoting actually works for this part. Amanda Seyfried is also convincing in what is a challenging role; the credibility of some of her character’s actions, especially late in the film, is a hard sell but she manages to do it. The really impressive performance of the film is Richard Jenkins as the developmentally disabled father to Tatum’s character. Jenkins does a very nice job portraying the character’s condition without making him a joke or a victim and the relationship between father and son gives the film a lot of its best scenes. The story of Dear John is admirable in the way that it breaks out of some of the traps of a typical romantic story. In addition to the father-son subplot, Dear John also incorporates the war in Afghanistan and other storylines intended to give the film more substance.
What Doesn’t: The trouble with Dear John’s effort to take its story into new areas is that the film ends up going in too many directions at once. The middle of the film suffers especially as the romance and Seyfried’s character all but disappear and Dear John becomes an entirely new movie before returning back to the romantic plot. The strain on the relationship is not very well realized with little lead up to its collapse. The finale of the film is very hurtful to the character work on both of the lead roles and undoes much of what the film had going for it.
Bottom Line: Dear John is a film whose script is about one or two revisions away from being complete. Although there are some strong performances here, the film gets lost in the middle and never fully recovers.
Episode: #276 (February 14, 2010)