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Dear John

Dear John

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

LASSE Hallstrom is no stranger to the tear-jerking movie, as past hits such as The Cider House Rules and – more recently – Hachi: A Dog’s Tale will testify.

His latest, Dear John, comes with added sob potential given that it’s based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks (of The Notebook and A Walk To Remember fame).

Alas, while clearly designed to have you reaching for the tissue box on several occasions, Dear John fails to feel like anything other than an emotionally manipulative and frequently quite laboured weepie that struggles to hold much interest.

Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried play the lovers at the centre of the story: he is a Special Forces green beret named John who first encounters Seyfried’s pretty student Savanna while on leave. Over the course of a fortnight, they fall in love and promise to write to each other while John completes his service and she realises an ambition to set up a summer camp for autistic kids.

As their reunion nears, however, tragedy strikes in the form of 9/11 and John is compelled to sign up for longer, leaving Savanna to pine for him at home. But she struggles to do so when a rival for her affections appears on the scene and John, too, must juggle his army responsibilities with his passion for Savanna and his feelings for his autistic, coin-collecting father (Richard Jenkins).

The biggest problem with Dear John – apart from its pedestrian pacing – is the way it layers on the tear-jerk moments. Not content with providing the couple with one or two emotionally challenging episodes to cope with, the film piles on the heartache and ends up feeling contrived.

Almost every character has a tragedy in waiting, all of which place further obstacles in front of the lead duo, and which eventually test the patience of even the most saintly viewer.

It’s a shame because Hallstrom is usually a more subtle kind of director, and Tatum and Seyfried provide amiable leads.

It’s a measure of how uninvolving the central storyline is, however, that any of the tears that may be shed by viewers may well be reserved for Jenkins’ character, who walks away with most of the film’s most poignant moments. But even then, the story arc for this normally brilliant actor still feels mightily contrived.

Dear John, for all of its self-serious soul-searching, is a heavy-handed romantic drama that fails to hit as emotionally hard as it should. Rather, it leaves you feeling bored.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 108mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 23, 2010