It’s a movie so saccharine in its first hour that it’ll practically make you throw up in your mouth. Even its final reel, whilst redeeming it slightly, does nothing to alleviate the apathy you have for the characters for the first 60 minutes.
In the sun-drenched shores of a small town, Savannah and John meet. He’s a big burly meat-head with a chivalrous streak – a strong silent type that rescues her from the ignominy of having to fish her lost hand bag out of the sea. She’s a dewy-eyed blonde beauty, the daughter of fabulously wealthy parents.
Before long, they’re enjoying long walks on the beach and beginning a passionate relationship so gooey that all your teeth are in danger of falling out at the same time. They spout lines of such clichéd sentimentality that it’s impossible to take them seriously as real people “Wherever you are in the world, remember that the moon is always no bigger than your thumb” and “I’m beginning to think you’re too good of a person for me”. Who actually says stuff like that? It’s a diabetic’s nightmare.
There’s also some dark past of John’s hinted at but never resolved, clearly designed to make him seem more edgy or dangerous. After all, who likes a nice guy? It’s far more satisfying for gushing teenage audience members for Savannah to be the girl that redeemed the bad boy. These aren’t characters; they’re carefully created automatons. Even the strained relationship John has with his father does nothing to alleviate its deficiencies – pain, yearning and over-sentimental romanticism are the orders of the day.
But their idyllic romance is shattered when John ships out back to Iraq. Sensing that their two week love affair is something special, the lovestruck pair decide to exchange letters to keep in touch. Cue sunset montages and long lingering shots of them canoodling with tearful goodbyes and promises – pretty dramatic stuff for a fortnight romance.
John’s tour is supposed to end in a year but when the events of September 11th happen, he signs up for a longer tour – something which is supposed to evoke feeling of patriotism but feels like a hollow cop out instead.
Just when you can’t take any more of the Nicholas Sparks “You Will Cry” formula (he also penned weep-a-thon The Notebook), Dear John pulls out a plot twist which makes you realise that it’s a lot more self-aware than you initially imagined.
But it’s a tonal shift that comes far too late – it still doesn’t excuse the paper-thin characterisation of its characters or wash the punishingly sickly sweet taste out of your mouth.