At The Movies 02.05.10
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” and here’s my commentary on “Dear John,” opening today at The Majestic Theater in Greenville :
Given the previews, you’re expecting a mushy romance flick, like “The Notebook” (a previous Nicholas Sparks novel made into a film).  And “Dear John” starts out that way, but takes a left turn somewhere in the middle, and ends not only abruptly, but a little differently than we expected.
            Of course even saying that there’s a twist in the plot gives away some of the story, but no movie wants to be completely predictable.  The setting is 10 years ago, in a quiet little beach resort.  Channing Tatum plays the hunky young boyfriend, John Tyree, on leave from the military and enjoying visiting his Dad’s beach house.  He impulsively jumps off the pier to save a girl’s purse, and is rewarded with the grateful attention of a beautiful blonde bombshell, Savannah (Amanda Seyfried).  We all know what’s going to happen next, and the romance they develop is sweet with a sour edge, because we know that soon he’s returning to duty, and she’s going back to school.  So there’s really no future here, is there?
            Ah, but in the old-fashioned style of pen put to paper, they write each other.  And we, the readers, get to hear of their experiences and their growing devotion to one another (though we have to wonder, after only two weeks of actually knowing each other, if they are falling in love with an idealized version of one another, rather than a real person).
What we might have expected is a joyful reunion at the end of a frustrating time apart, but events intervene.  9/11 happens, and soldiers are voluntarily re-enlisting in a sudden surge of patriotic fervor.  Savannah , unfortunately self-obsessed, just doesn’t get it.  And now we have our first tension in the idyllic relationship.
            Somewhere along the bumpy road of sketchy correspondence, unevenly distributed, we have to decide if this “absence makes the heart grow fonder” romance is worth all the trouble.  Or maybe it is, at first, then it isn’t, then perhaps it is again.  A subplot involves Savannah ’s affection for John’s Dad (Richard Jenkins), who is autistic.  She’s already developed an interest in a little boy on the island with the same misunderstood affliction, and she’s thinking this might be what she wants to do with her life after the university.  John, for his part, is just trying to stay alive, in an increasingly unglamorous policing action.
            Is “happily ever after” what we always want at the end?  What if other options seem more realistic, maybe even more appealing?
            “Dear John” is not just your basic romance novel put to the big screen.  But playing with the genre also makes for a less predictable target audience, and, perhaps, a greater struggle finding an audience at all.
This is Ron Salfen, “At The Movies,” for 93.5 KICK-FM