Dear John reviewed.

Dear John reviewed.

Dear John reviewed.

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Feb. 4 2010 5:48 PM

Dear John

This is the hardest letter I've ever had to write …

Dear John. Cick image to expand.
Dear John

Dear John (Screen Gems),

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate’s movie critic.

You may wonder why I'm writing you yet another letter, after our thwarted love has finally found its hard-earned happy ending. (Spoiler alert, I guess, but given that we're characters in a film directed by The Cider House Rules' Lasse Hallström and adapted from a novel by The Notebook's Nicholas Sparks, I think we always knew it was meant to be.) I guess I'm just going over everything that happened and trying to sort out why it took us so long to find each other at last.

That magical spring break when we met on the South Carolina coast—I (Amanda Seyfried) was a college student from a wealthy Southern family, you (Channing Tatum) were a Special Forces soldier on leave from service in Germany—it all seemed so simple. We were going to correspond for one year, then be together when your tour of duty was over. Then came Sept. 11, 2001. Granted, we experienced the horrific events of that day primarily as an obstacle to our romantic fulfillment, but nonetheless it was devastating. Because your unit leader insisted that voluntary re-enlistment be unanimous or not at all—a policy that would seem militarily counterproductive, but whatever—you reupped for another two years in the Army.

Oh, we kept writing to each other—long, handwritten letters that the camera panned across slowly enough for viewers to start spacing out on the differing textures of the paper—but it wasn't enough to keep us from drifting apart, and eventually I wrote you a real "Dear John" letter, revealing that I was engaged to someone else. The identity of my fiancé was one of our story's few real surprises, wasn't it, John? So I'll keep the name of the character and the actor who played him secret, except to say that he's a former child actor who's undeservedly little-known as an adult.

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Whenever it seemed like things were really over between us, someone would unexpectedly land in the hospital: first you, the victim of a sniper's bullet in an unnamed and thus politically inoffensive Middle Eastern country; then your father (Richard Jenkins), an undiagnosed autistic unable to relate to anything beyond his world-class collection of rare coins; then my unnamed-but-well-cast husband, who needed access to a special drug that our insurance wouldn't cover. Would I be able to organize enough fundraisers to keep him alive and one day realize my dream of opening a horseback-riding camp for autistic children?

It's crazy the way things turned out, when you think about it. I mean, maybe not for the audience, but for us, the whole thing was a wonderful adventure. Every character got a chance to be noble and self-sacrificing (or sacrificed); nobody was the bad guy, except maybe that Arab who shot you. Whenever we doubted our feelings for each other, the music—the sappy, asphyxiating, ever-present music—was there to remind us how strong our passion really was. And the first time we kissed, on the construction site of that house I was volunteering to build for charity, in the pouring rain … well, I'd always dreamed of kissing a boy in the rain, ever since I saw The Notebook.

I have to say in all modesty that Amanda Seyfried was really, really good as me. She's such a luminous actress, a little slip of a thing with huge hyperthyroidal Bette Davis eyes and flossy fairy-princess hair and a beautiful ingénue singing voice. (Remember that song I played you on the guitar the night before you left for the front, that was one of the few bearable musical moments of the movie? She wrote it herself!) Seyfried may yet not be quite up to the challenge of playing the care-weary wife of the later scenes, but, honestly, you have to hand it to her for taking a script of pure sugar and spinning at least her own scenes into pink cotton candy. Channing Tatum, playing you, might not have had the broadest expressive range, but he seemed genuinely bedazzled by Amanda Seyfried (can you blame him?), and his slightly slablike quality suited the character well. And that scene where he—I mean you—read a letter out loud to your sick father saying all the things you'd never been able to say? That got a tear out of even that one poker-faced movie critic in the second row. (What's her deal, anyway? Is she somehow opposed to watching beautiful young people have discreetly framed PG-13 sex while listening to lite R & B?)

Critics and cynics aside, I think people—the people who understand—are really going to love our story. Dear John is as conventional and unworldly as the décor in your dad's onscreen house. It's the cinematic equivalent of a plastic-covered couch under a "Bless This House" sampler. And that's not a bad thing, for audiences who have a high threshold for sentiment and a low one for dramatic conflict. The rest of those frowny types … well, they can just go to H-E-double-toothpicks.

Love always, Savannah Slate V: The critics on Dear John and other new releases