When I asked my Facebook friends for movie ideas for Project Valentine, I had a whole range of suggestions, but two movies in particular received far more votes than any others. Tonight's movie is the runner up, A Walk to Remember, starring Shane West and Mandy Moore.
So, a lot of you sure must have liked this movie, huh? Well, OK. I... didn't dislike it, exactly. I'll get to that in a minute. First, the plot. Shane West plays Landon Carter, a baaaad boy. He drives a muscle car! He has a token black friend! When he is busted for a prank gone wrong, his principal convinces the authorities not to press charges in exchange for Landon doing community service, including performing in the school play. Take that, drama geeks who were vying for the lead! Your passion and commitment don't matter when there's a baaaad boy to be rehabilitated! Mandy Moore plays Jamie Sullivan, the reverend's daughter. All of the things that Landon does as his punishment, she does for fun. She is a good girl. Have you seen a high school movie before? OK, then you know that the leads in the play always fall in love. Always. (Or at the very least, they have sex, as in the case of Teen Wolf.) Their relationship faces obstacles along the way - he is embarrassed to let his friends know about her, and her father is very suspicious of him. As they work through these problems and grow closer, she reveals her secret to him. SPOILERS FOLLOW. Jamie has leukemia, and has only a short time to live. In the time she has left, he helps her to make the dreams on her list come true, including being married in the same chapel her parents were married in. She helps him heal his relationship with his father and set goals of his own. And they live happily ever after, for like two or three months.
I see why this movie appeals to people. It's a romance against the odds, it's got archetypal characters, and an uplifting ending. Maybe that's what seems strange about this movie to me now that I've watched it as part of Project Valentine. I've watched 27 movies so far this month, and very, very few of them have unambiguously happy endings. This one, even with a death, makes its way into happy ending territory. You know when you give up soda for Lent, and then on Easter you drink a big root beer and it makes you ill because your body has forgotten how to handle it? My brain has forgotten how to handle a happy ending. I guess this movie is cinematic comfort food. You don't expect anything all that original, but it feels good while you're taking it in. I get it.
Remember in Mike Tyson's Punch Out, how you always knew when to dodge Piston Honda's punches because he telegraphed them with his eyebrows? This movie was like one big twitching eyebrow. "Promise not to fall in love with me" = cuz I'm'a die. "I'm not gonna tell you the first item on my list" = I'm totally gonna tell you the first item on my list later. "You told me I could spend the time I have the way I want" = there's not much time left.
I am torn. This is not a movie that I can praise on its objective merits. And I'm just not that big of a fan of high school romances in general. I mean, look back at when you were in high school. I know that the feelings ran very strong, but can you honestly say that you were at your romantic peak? Thirty-five year-old me has moves that seventeen year-old me never even dreamed of. But I am also remembering my wife's words that sparked this whole project: "You know, you might end up liking some of them if you give them a chance, instead of being a cynical ass." And so help me, I did kind of like this one, corny as it may have been. It helps, too, that Mandy Moore has since done some really fun work like the movie Saved! and on Scrubs.
RATING - Three telescopes out of five
LESSON - This sentiment may be cliched, but I'm choosing to play it straight and just say this: what greater gift do we have in this life than to find somebody to love, and who loves us in return? When you find that person, love them fully and wholly, because you never know how much time you have.