Don’t be fooled by the fact that I’ve given this unabashedly sentimental movie a high rating. It’s a very qualified high rating, because it comes with a warning: If an overly sentimental teen romance picture is not your cup of tea, then A Walk to Remember is not your movie. I’m not even sure it’s my movie. I enjoyed it. I responded to it while it was onscreen. I succumbed to most of its sentiment — I’ve no problem with sentiment that feels genuine, and this does — but the likelihood of me ever feeling the need to see A Walk to Remember again is very slight. Yes, it’s a tearjerker and it deals from a very stacked deck. But it’s beautifully made by director Adam Shankman — I don’t remember the last time a filmmaker ever used so many unashamedly romantic dissolves — who lends the potentially sappy story a certain weightiness by imbuing the film with a sense that someone who believes in it is at the helm. Coming at a time when the movies’ vision of teenagers seems to go nowhere beyond the calculated raunchiness of Not Another Teen Movie, A Walk to Remember probably looks better and deeper than it really is, but at least it serves as a kind of balance and attempts to offer the audience characters rather than caricatures. Actually, the story is both predictable and unpredictable. The movie starts out as a teen-angst piece with the glowering Shane West (Get Over It) as Landon Carter, a kind of James Dean Lite rebel without a clue. This set-up leads the viewer to expect something quite different from what follows when Landon is forced into situations that involve Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore), the high-school “loser.” The film takes a pretty unexpected departure here. Sure, we expect Landon to see something more in Jamie, and he does. But what he doesn’t find is the anticipated insecure ugly duckling. When he first talks to her, he ends up asking, “You don’t care what people think?” Her simple “no” completely undermines his world and sense of self — hardly surprising, since his life is entirely predicated on peer pressure. It is, in fact, peer pressure that causes him to snub her in public and agree with her later sarcastic suggestion that they should be “secret friends.” This is where the film really scores thematically, because it allows the viewer to assess the peer pressure aspect without getting preachy about it. (It does tend to get preachy about other things, however.) Of course, ultimately, the film gets around to its tearjerker aspects, but these are generally effective and, though contrived and melodramatic, ring true on an emotional level. It’s not a perfect film. Peter Coyote is as good as can be expected in the role of Jamie’s preacher father, but the part is often simplistically written — and it doesn’t help that the last thing he was seen in locally was the ultra-saccharine, “uplifting” film, The Basket. Daryl Hannah is OK as Landon’s mother, but for some reason she’s decked out in a black wig that makes her look like a drag queen — and that probably wasn’t the look the filmmakers were going for. Mandy Moore’s status as a pop singer is another downside, since the film has to let her sing — three times. The bit where she sings in her father’s church choir is not bad, as is the final over-the-credits number — even if her particular brand of songs is pretty insipid. The problem lies in giving her an extended number within the course of the film — excused by being part of the play she and Landon are in. The song’s no better or worse than the one at the film’s end, but it stops the movie dead in its tracks for way too long. There’s also a subplot involving a hospitalized boy, whose injury Landon is partly responsible for, that’s there at the beginning, crops up once later and then seems to have been conveniently forgotten. None of these are small flaws, but they don’t ultimately rob A Walk to Remember of its success as a better-than-average four-handkerchief picture that’s much better than most of what’s being said about it.
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