Monday, July 05, 2010
Dear John Indeed
Last night I watched the movie Dear John. I refused to see it in theatres on principle - I find Nicholas Sparks to be a douchebag based on interviews I've read, and since every single one of his books/movies ends in some tragic form or another, I already knew what would happen at the end of Dear John. I just wasn't up for that kind of downer.
But I do have enough of a thing for Channing Tatum to fork over $5 for a DVD rental. I did get my moneys worth out of torso shots and general Channing face time, so at least my time wasn't entirely wasted.
As for story, I wish I could say I was so blown away and moved that I've changed my mind about Sparks. Alas, this is not the case.
In a nutshell for anyone who has no idea (and yes, this does include SPOILERS):
Channing plays Green Beret soldier John Tyree, on leave at his home in Charleston in the spring of 2001 (date is important here!). While enjoying some surfing and the general beautifulness that is the beach, he comes to the aid of Savannah (played by Amanda Seyfried) when her purse falls into the ocean and John dives in to retrieve it. Savannah is a college student on a very long Spring Break. The two spend every minute together, and by the time Savannah must return to school, they are in love. John still has a year left on his current military tour, so they vow to write extensive letters back and forth and get together once he's back home for good, ostensibly to plan their happily ever after.
Things go according to plan until the 9/11 attacks. His sense of duty now ramped up, John decides to re-up with his unit, however not without a lot of internal conflict because it means another two years away from Savannah. Savannah is disappointed but understanding about his decision and the two continue their letter writing until all of the sudden, Savannah's letters stop coming. After over two months, John receives the literal "Dear John" letter in which Savannah tells him she's engaged to someone else. John is heartbroken.
Many years later, when John returns home to deal with his father's declining health and subsequent death, he learns that Savannah had married a long-time friend who'd been stricken with cancer. This man - Tim - has an autistic son, and apparently Savannah felt some sense of duty to marry this Tim and help him through his illness and to care for his kid. Savannah admits that she still loves John but she felt that this is just what she had to do. Meanwhile, she's struggling because Tim's cancer is getting worse but the insurance company won't pay for some experimental drug that might cure him/let him live longer.
As I understand it, in the book version, John sells his father's extensive coin collection and gives the money to Savannah, which allows her to pay for the drugs that end up curing Tim. John rides off into the sunset alone and heartbroken but at least feeling that he helped the woman he loved. The End.
In the movie, John sells his father's extensive coin collection and anonymously gives Savannah the money, which allows her to pay for the drugs that end up extending Tim's life long enough so that he can come home for a while to say his good-byes. Tim dies. The movie ends with John and Savannah meeting up - by accident or by design is left ambiguous - and the implication that now that both are free of obligations they can finally pursue that happily ever after. I think it's supposed to be a feel-good ending but somehow just left me feeling flat.
As a sidenote: the DVD does contain an alternative ending that follows the book's ending more closely, in which Tim lives, the end.
The problem with this whole premise - besides the predictable Sparks faux-tragic ending - is the weak motivation we're given for why Savannah married Tim. Now, I didn't read the book, and maybe it's better explained there. But in the movie version, we're never given any sense of why Savannah felt she just had to marry Tim to the detriment of her own happiness and the destruction of John's heart. Why she couldn't have just been a very good friend and taken care of Tim and his kid while she waited for John to get out of the military is never even explored.
And we are supposed to believe that these two have been pouring their hearts and souls out to each other in their letters. I would think that these letters would also include at least a bit of the mundane, the here's what's been going on in my life stuff that most people use to fill up sheet after sheet of writing paper. Are we supposed to buy the idea that never in any of her letters did Savannah mention what had been going on with Tim, how his situation was really causing her mental and emotional pain and turmoil? That she never cried on John's virtual shoulder on how she felt she just had to do something to help out this poor guy? As it was presented, Savannah's engagement came like a bolt of lightning from out of the blue.
The story is told from John's POV, so we don't see Savannah's side of things at all. I never for a second felt sorry for her or that she'd been put in a horribly unfair situation or that her sacrifice was actually a noble one. I was just pissed off that she left not only the guy who loved her but a soldier who risked his life every minute for his country and couldn't help that he wasn't around. Two years to wait for a love supposedly as wonderful as theirs didn't seem to be too much ask, IMO. More troubling to me for Savannah would be the pain of living in fear every day that John could be killed. Net net, the whole thing came off as looking like John loved Savannah way more than she ever loved him.
In fact, the more moving of the two relationships portrayed in the movie was the one between John and his father who appeared to have an obvious form of autism that was most likely never diagnosed given his age. The only tears I mustered during the whole movie was when John sat his father's side just before he died and the two finally, really connected.
I'm not a huge fan of movies/stories that depict great love with a tragic ending, but there are some that actually do work. I recall my sense of disbelief at the end of the movie Green Card when Gerard Depardieu's illegal alien character is deported back to France after his and Andie McDowell's marriage was found to be a green card sham despite the fact that the two had actually fallen in love. I hated the ending, but it made sense. It worked for that story. It didn't hurt that we viewers knew there was no reason she couldn't go to France to be with him.
Still, the tragic ending of Titanic also worked, and there was certainly no hope at all left that Rose and Jack would ever be together.
And to give props to Sparks even though it pains me, the ending of A Walk to Remember worked just fine. Granted, it was manipulative and unnecessary, but I cried anyway and didn't feel I'd been cheated.
I just didn't feel that Dear John's tragic ending had been earned. John's sacrifice of Savannah - a soldier giving up everything to fight for his country - was truly heroic. But Savannah's sacrifice of John to marry her friend Tim for no absolutely necessary reason just seemed cold and cruel on her part and made her a disloyal, unlikeable character.
I have no desire to read the book to determine if it was done better there. But my opinion of Sparks remains as it was before I watched the movie. Thank god for Channing Tatum's bare torso.