We live in a cynical world, plain and simple. With so much violence and tragedy read about in the newspapers each passing day, "A Walk to Remember," based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks and directed by Adam Shankman (2001's "The Wedding Planner
"), is such an innocent and well-meaning motion picture that to criticize it strictly on those grounds would be to miss the point. A cogent romance about the redemptive power of love, the film makes no excuses for its saccharine tone as it lays its cards on the table right from the beginning.
When a stupid stunt leaves his friend hurt, Landon Carter (Shane West) is busted for an infraction and alcohol use. A 17-year-old senior in the small town of Beaufort, North Carolina, Landon is a part of the cool group at his high school. As part of his punishment, he is forced to join the cast of the spring play, also starring longtime classmate Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore). The daughter of the town's minister (Peter Coyote), Jamie is a plain jane who gets picked on for her pure goodness, but is smart enough to not let the taunting get in the way of her goals. Opposites attract as Landon becomes smitten by the idealistic Jamie, going against the feelings of his narrow-minded friends to start a relationship with her. They naturally fall in love with each other, but Jamie is hiding a fateful secret from Landon that she is afraid to tell him.
By the time the final thirty minutes roll around, "A Walk to Remember" takes a turn for melodrama in the same way that 1970's "Love Story," 2000's "Here on Earth
," 2000's "Autumn in New York
," and 2001's "Sweet November
" did. This twist may leave preteen fans of pop-singer-turned-actress Mandy Moore (2001's "The Princess Diaries
") reeling with shock and tears, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of film should be able to predict what's coming long before it actually is uncovered.
The climax lays the sap on thick, with scene after scene filled with tears, hurt, tragic love, anger, and a droning instrumental score by Mervyn Warren. Some of it is truly touching, no matter how much you fight it, but other moments are too weepy for their own good. With that said, "A Walk to Remember" ends up working in the long run because the first hour is so unabashedly charming, as Jamie and Landon's relationship is set up and then believably developed.
The best scene in the picture--one that left a huge, dorky smile on my face--has to do with Landon setting out to fulfill some of the goals Jamie has made for herself on her "to-do" list. The way in which Landon allows Jamie to be in two places at once (one of her goals on the list), played to the song "Dancing in the Moonlight" by Toploader, is so joyful and romantic that it had seemingly everyone in the audience audibly swooning, and I had a half-notion to join them.
Shane West (2000's "Whatever It Takes
") and Mandy Moore, getting rid of her blonde tresses for a brunette color, make a lovely onscreen couple, and what's more, they both have enough acting talent to pull off some of the rockier moments in the sometimes-sticky screenplay by Karen Janszen (1997's "The Matchmaker"). Moore luckily does not follow down the same haphazard road as singer Mariah Carey did with 2001's infamous "Glitter
," as she has all of the screen presence that Carey needed, but lacked. More promising is to consider what a 180-degree turn this role is for Moore after her mean-spirited character in "The Princess Diaries
As Landon's single mother and Jamie's preacher father, Daryl Hannah (1999's "My Favorite Martian") and Peter Coyote (2000's "Erin Brockovich") provide solid support, although Hannah's brown wig couldn't look more fake if she tried. There is one scene where you can even blatantly see Hannah's blonde hair sticking out from under the dark rug.
"A Walk to Remember" is far from perfect, but its heart is in the right place. Jamie is one of the most positive role models to come around in a film in some time, and Mandy Moore plausibly pulls her character off without much strain. Whether one gets lost in the romance and the drama or spitefully rejects its sheer earnestness, nobody, I think, could possibly say there isn't a definite audience for harmless, unobjectionable teen fare like "A Walk to Remember." There isn't a fart joke in sight, folks. Enjoy it.
©2002 by Dustin Putman