Tonight I left the theater angry. Not because, as you might expect, I’d been forced to watch yet another shallow teen movie starring another empty headed fad of the moment teen pop star, and not because a low quality plastic key chain thrown by wacky morning D.J. stunt-boy “Billy” had impacted with my head (which it had). Rather, I was in a twist because I’d just seen something special sabotaged by truly bad taste.
What I’d seen was demure pop diva Many Moore acting her ass off in a fairly risky and frankly challenging role while getting absolutely nothing for it. What I’d seen was A Walk to Remember, starring the aforementioned teen sensation and her partner, perennial WB reject Shane West. Despite its somewhat suspect cast, A Walk To Remember is not the latest attempt to turn Dawson’s Creek into a mind numbing feature film. Instead, the film is based upon a novel by Nicholas Sparks, a man whose work I have never read, nor do I intend to.
Set in North Carolina, this is the romantic story of wild child Landon Carter (West) and devoted reverend’s daughter Jamie Sullivan (Moore). Landon lives a live of popularity, pleasure, and excess, abusing and looking down on anyone outside and below his cool kid circle, including Jamie. But chance and fate bring them together and Jamie teaches Landon there is a different way to live and love. I’m told this film is set in the 50’s, but I think someone forgot to tell the director, because there really is no evidence of it. Reading back over my description may cause nausea, but the film itself is really much less sickly sweet than it sounds.
In fact, its first half is at times a little dark, as we watch Landon’s mistreatment and misjudgment of Jamie based upon her religious faith and in his opinion, hopelessly un-cool attitude. In this, the film is beautifully realistic and thoughtful; each character’s progression brought along smoothly and slowly, without rushing past all the sticky parts just to get to some silly kiss. True, at times it feels as though something has been left out, as if the film jiggles around a bit. But, it’s hard to notice while wrapped up in the wonderful world of Moore and West.
Mandy Moore really deserves some credit here. With the other pop divas and boy bands of the world rushing to shove out ego-trips and glittery slut-fests, Moore actually had the courage to do something serious. Forget glamour and dancing, A Walk To Remember chooses realism and heart instead. Even the costumes are totally lacking in pop diva fair. She’s actually a reverend’s daughter, not some slutty catholic schoolgirl wannabe.
If only the film had ended there, with a lovely first kiss after an hour of investment, struggle, and sweetness. Instead, someone thought it would be funny to have Moore shout out “I have cancer!” The line itself is so ridiculous when said that even Moore looks embarrassed saying it. For the first time in recent memory I actually leaned forward in my seat and prayed for death. So totally out of the blue was this moment, so out of keeping with the tone and tenor of the rest of the movie, that I nearly managed to convince myself that in fact I had fallen asleep and somehow awakened in the middle of the soon to be released Brittany Spears hack job. I suppose the writers felt that since they had successfully opted out of the pretty girl teen-movie cliché, they had better throw something in to showcase their lack of originality and good sense. I’m aware that the film’s director was probably only following along with the book upon which the film is based. However, perhaps having read the book, someone might have had the brains to toss it out the window and do a re-write.
Maybe the movie got better again later. Who can tell? They lost me and pretty much everyone else right then and there. The train derailed, the plot collapsed, and all the surprising talent of Moore and West simply couldn’t save it. Oh sure, there’s still a lot of weepy sweetness to be had, Moore and West keep right on acting their hearts out up till that inevitable and oft seen overdone end. But I’d been burned and didn’t really want back in.