REVIEW: A Walk to Remember

by Phil Boatwright, posted Thursday, January 24, 2002 (17 years ago)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)--Well, here's one for the record books: A smart drama aimed at the teen market, released by Warner Bros, and the central figure is -- are you ready for this -- a committed Christian!

Based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks, Warner Bros. has miraculously been convinced that America's teenagers will embrace a film where the high school bad boy finds love and a reason for life when he falls for the Baptist preacher's daughter.

During the film's opening scenes, we are introduced to the moody slackers of Beaufort High and get a taste of their reckless character as they entice a wannabe in-crowder to jump off a tower into a shallow reservoir. Of course, the reservoir is shallower than anyone thought and evidently there are people who will jump off a cliff if everyone else is doing it.

The boy is injured and the main prankster, Landon Carter [Shane West from Get Over It], is caught and forced by school authorities to tutor students and participate in the Drama Club's spring play [a fate worse than death, apparently]. But Landon is not much of a tutor. Nor is he very adept at memorizing lines. Therefore, he must seek help from the school geek, a Bible-carrying plain Jane with an affinity for tent dresses.

At first she is the source of ridicule, but soon Landon is drawn to 17-year-old Jamie Sullivan (recording artist Mandy Moore). Unlike his cynical, aimless pals, she has a rare quality: peace of mind. And Jamie is beginning to sense that there is more to him than meets the eye. And she likes what meets the eye.

As they fall in love, our Romeo and Juliet overcome teen snobbery and the reproach of a stereotypically over-protective father. But young Jamie has a secret, one that will affect everyone's life from then on.

Respected producer Denise Di Novi (Little Women, Edward Scissorhands) just so happens to be a devout Christian. After introducing a Believer into the main cast of her primetime TV series "The District," Di Novi has now found a film script wherein the lead character is also a dedicated Christian.

This is the first major Hollywood production I have reviewed in the past fifteen years that featured a Christian who didn't turn out to be a hypocrite, a bigot, or a crazed killer. Mind you, there's no gospel preached or testimonies given. You won't be seeing a revival service that causes a sudden spiritual declaration. Proselytizing is not the purpose of this script. What it does do is reintroduce an uncompromising person of faith into today's cinema; something normally left to "church" films.

This is a Hollywood motion picture, complete with ten obscenities and one supporting character who spouts crude sexual entendres. The other girls show off flat bellies and drink beer. These are real kids. But there's nothing of an exploitive nature to this content. Rather, these words and actions serve to reveal the need for alternative thinking.

Youth leaders may occasionally blush during the first third of the film, but parents don't have to worry that their children will be subjected to the profane use of God's name or see explicit sexual activity. The "S" word is used several times, but no other harsh expletives. And there is no irreverence to God or Christ. The sexual references, I admit, border on the objectionable, but these moments are utilized to set the stage, to show the difference between the spiritual and the non-spiritual.

Those a bit cynical to the stirrings of young love may find some of the dialogue smaltzy and several scenes forced and saccharinely sweet. But this film is not intended for them. It is aimed at those just discovering that intangible something that opens the door between adolescence and adulthood.

The film is not faultless. It has its awkward moments. At one point, for example, our hero wants to give something meaningful to the girl he loves. She has mentioned her fascination with astronomy and a desire to one day own a powerful telescope. Next thing we know, he's building one in the backyard. That could bring giggles from even the most die-hard romantic. Perhaps a better cinematic choice would have been Landon selling his prized bad-boy hotrod in order to purchase the stargazer. Now that's a sacrifice that would have held every male audience member in awe.

Another missed opportunity is the pious minister. Jamie's father (Peter Coyote) is so unapproachable throughout that he simply adds to the uniform cinema depiction of a religious leader -- aloof and unloving. Had Mr. Coyote been given just one sensitive moment early on depicting his torment over the loss of his wife or some sort of compassion toward the wayward teens in his congregation, it would have added more depth to his personality and to the outcome of the film. With just a little tweaking, the screenwriter could have avoided the film's clichés.

But these are minor infractions. Ultimately, it is a satisfying film about young love. What a pleasure to go to the local cineplex and witness a Christian not as a caricature, but as a fully realized person, one we'd like to know. Sincere, romantic, A Walk To Remember is this generation's Love Story.

PG [Ten obscenities, but no misuse of God's name; one character utters crude sexual remarks, but I found these infractions used to depict the moods and feelings of many high schoolers].


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http:/www.bpnews.net. Photo title: A WALK TO REMEMBER.

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