By all accounts, Pandora Picture's " A Walk to Remember," which is
based on the Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name, should not work.
Its plot is well trodden territory and not particularly daring.
Its emotions are sweet and sincere almost to a fault, and its characters
seem to fit the stereotype of the standard "teen film." Yet, for
all of that, "A Walk to Remember" is a serious and at points inspiring
film that deserves serious consideration of its spiritual, though
not especially religious themes, and that, along the way, even manages
to spring a small surprise or two.
To say no more, the plot does not offer any unusual twists. A popular
high school senior, Landon Carter (Shane West), becomes involved in
a prank that nearly results in the drowning of one of his classmates
(Matt Lutz). As punishment for his transgressions, Landon is required
to tutor underprivileged students and is consigned to participate
in the school's spring play so that he will, as the school principal
puts it, "meet some new people." When Landon has trouble learning
his lines, he turns for help to the minister's daughter, Jamie Sullivan
(Mandy Moore), who is also in the play. She is a nice, smart girl
with a strong sense of herself. Gradually he is changed by her and
they fall in love. The rest of the story can be seen coming a mile
down the road, but in this case that is no bad thing.
This movie works not because it is a "teen movie" with attractive
stars, though it is that. Nor because its plot is original. After
all, "Romeo and Juliet" was not particularly original even when Shakespear
first wrote it. Rather, it works because it takes its characters
and its themes seriously. In contrast to the dreary normal run of
such films, this movie can reach both a younger and an older audience
because it suggests the power of love, decency and compassion, even
when such qualities cannot prevail over life's grimmer realities.
It does not pretend that, in the end, good will win out and that
everybody will live happily ever after. Rather, it suggests - at
times loudly to be sure - that it is possible for people to grow and
be better than what they are in spite of their own shortcomings, and
that examples of honesty and integrity can matter. At a time when
cynicism masquerades as sophistication, this is a theme worth touching upon.
Better still, notwithstanding the fairly standard plot, the characters
in "A Walk to Remember" are rather surprisingly not unidimensional.
To be certain, they are a fairly nice group, but they are not stick
figures, either. Jamie is spiritual and even religious, but when
Landon asks how she persuaded her father to let her go out, she replies
that she told him the truth, but that "I just left you out of it."
Clearly, this is no goodytwoshoes, a point that is reemphasized by
the way she keeps her secret from Landon, and by the way that she
first treats him when she finally does reveal the truth.
Similarly, the Reverend Sullivan (Peter Coyote) initially comes across
as just another movie stereotyped preacher, but it turns out that
his motives are more complex than simple "Bible thumping," and in
the end, he proves a reasonable and compassionate man. At the same
time, Landon's mother (Daryl Hannah) comes across as a well intentioned
woman overcome by the responsibilities of raising her son alone.
Yet she is also more forgiving of Landon's father for leaving them
than is Landon himself, and is also surprisingly somewhat dubious,
in a motherly way, that her son can achieve his goals.
For his part, Landon's transition from popular but aimless kid to
devoted and serious boyfriend, and from there to an adult, is thoroughly
believable. Indeed, in the whole movie, only Landon's best friend,
Eric (Al Thompson) and his father (Robert Treveiler), seem caricatured,
and this is mostly because their parts are so small. (Though it must
be added that Landon's dad ultimately is in one of the movie's most poignant scenes.)
"A Walk to Remember" is also given a boost by the superb acting.
Mandy Moore is thoroughly convincing as Jamie, striking a neat balance
between typical teenager and what would otherwise have been an almost
otherworldly character. Moore brings to her role a screen presence
that is endearing and convincing without being overbearing. Peter
Coyote as the Reverend Sullivan similarly manages to walk the fine
line between stereotyped minister and flesh and blood human being.
However, by far and away, the best acting is Shane West as Landon.
Although his character has the most growing to do throughout the
movie, West manages to bridge the changes without seeming to play
two different characters. Particularly riveting is the scene when
Landon begins to notice Jamie while she sings her solo in the school
play. Landon's face does not simply skip to a look of infatuation
or adoration. Rather, he manages to look both smitten and uncertain,
suddenly confused by feelings that he thought he could not have for
this girl. West manages to convey these feelings all without saying
a word and in only a few relatively short close-up shots. His work
here approaches near brilliance and suggests that this young actor
may well be capable of playing even more demanding roles.
There is no doubt that "A Walk to Remember" has its weaknesses. Yet
these are not significant in a movie that works hard and that takes
its values seriously without reducing them to either caricature or ridicule.
One critic has said that "A Walk to Remember" is good only because
it takes its spiritual component seriously. Only? This is a movie
that manages to tell a meaningful story without suffering in credibility
or resorting to preachiness. If nothing else, "A Walk to Remember"
is an antidote to the idea that the only good movies are the ones
where the heroes throw bombs.
Copyright © 2002 James E. Geoffrey II