| Channing Tatum (“Public Enemies” and “Step Up”) and Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!” and HBO’s “Big Love”) make a sizzling hot couple in this screen adaptation of the 2006 bestselling romance novel by Nicholas Sparks. Is their love meant to last forever or doomed by time, distance and forces beyond their control?
This marks the fifth time that a Sparks’ page-turner has struck Hollywood gold following “Message in a Bottle” (1999), “A Walk to Remember” (2002), “The Notebook”(2004) and “Nights in Rodanthe”(2008).
John Tyree (Tatum) is a handsome, soft-spoken member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (also known as the Green Berets) visiting his father (Richard Jenkins from “The Visitor” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under”) in South Carolina while on military leave. Savannah Lynn Curtis (Seyfried) is a beautiful blonde college student from an affluent Southern family spending spring break at her parents’ beach house.
Although they are from different social and economic backgrounds, their paths cross when John dives off the pier into deep water to retrieve Savannah’s purse. They are immediately attracted to one another. Their chance encounter turns into a whirlwind two-week courtship.
John teaches her how to surf and they do charitable work rebuilding a house as part of a Habitat for Humanity project. They are playful in each other’s company, sharing some of the most passionate kisses ever seen on the big screen. The audience recognizes how well they fit together and everything seems so right with the world.
Savannah meets John’s father and discovers that he has Asperger syndrome, an autistic disorder.
Her vivacious, outgoing personality causes John to open up and feel true happiness. He can’t stop thinking about her. Savannah represents purity and goodness. She doesn’t drink, smoke or fool around. She kids him that her only fault is that she curses in her mind.
John meets her longtime acquaintance and classmate Randy (Scott Porter from “Friday Night Lights”), who comes from her same social circle. Randy has a crush on Savannah. Savannah tells John, “I’m not his type, but he doesn’t know it yet.”
John is also introduced to Tim Wheddon (Henry Thomas from “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”), a friend of Savannah’s family, and his autistic son Alan (6-year-old Braeden Reed, who is autistic in real life, making his performance even more remarkable).
After John and Savannah argue over John’s dad not being normal, they make up. John promises that they will be together forever when his enlistment period expires in one year. They decide to stay close by writing a string of letters to each other. The title comes from the greeting at the beginning of all her letters.
Time and distance take a toll on their commitment to one another. After the terrible tragedy of Sept. 11 occurs, John goes home to Charleston on a two-day leave. He meets Savannah’s folks at a big party they throw in his honor. He explains to Savannah that he is under the peer pressure of his entire unit to do the patriotic thing and re-enlist for another two years. They spend one last night of lovemaking together.
The letters from Savannah eventually stop. The final letter tells John goodbye and that she is engaged to another man.
The movie hammers home the point that life is all about timing. The old adage about man making plans and God laughing has never been truer. You should bring a supply of tissues, because this movie is a tearjerker. The strongest emotional pull is the relationship between John and his father.
The love story falls apart like a house of cards in the third act. Savannah’s shocking and creepy choice of who she marries comes from out of left field with no satisfactory explanation. She doesn’t give John a chance to talk her out of it.
Purists who read the book may be disappointed and upset about the changes made by screenwriter Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”). Linden may have been too close to the material and leaves out important details and key conversations. John’s motivation to do a selfless act of charity goes unexplained. The plot holes and gaps in logic are unnatural and hard to believe.
Three-time Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström (“The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat”) from Sweden ably directs this emotionally moving drama. The charming historical city of Charleston, S.C., provides varied architectural structures and a rich landscape for the background settings.
The original musical score composed by Deborah Lurie is outstanding. Some of the best contemporary love songs enhance the viewing experience including my personal favorite, “Paperweight” by Schuyler Fisk. Seyfried even plays the guitar and sings “Little House.”
Tatum is a dreamboat beefcake hunk who will have the women swooning in the aisles. Seyfried’s star will be rising after this performance. She looks great wearing shorts, tight jeans and a knockout little red dress.
Jenkins stands out with another solid turn in a supporting role. You can’t help but sympathize with this dear old dad.
Despite the story running out of gas and a hokey tacked-on ending, women of all ages constituting the intended target audience could not ask for a better alternative to the Super Bowl. Guys should strongly consider this movie for a romantic date night out as Valentine’s Day approaches.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"