A Walk to Remember
First screened and reviewed in January 2002
Director: Adam Shankman. Cast: Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Al Thompson, Lauren German, Matt Lutz, Clayne Crawford, Paz de la Huerta, Jonathan Parks Jordan. Screenplay: Karen Janszen (from the novel by Nicholas Sparks).

Twitter Capsule: Not Renoir, but it's much more winning than anyone could reasonably expect. Vintage warmth, like an old quilt.

VOR:   Oatmeal filmmaking, but kind of fascinating to see mall-targeted entertainment and dyed-in-the-wool conservative values dovetailing so openly. Weirdly, even bravely on-trend.

Photo © 2002 Warner Bros. Pictures/DiNovi Pictures
I have to agree with those critics who have already stated how Adam Shankman's A Walk to Remember, reactionary and sheltered though it clearly is, exercises through those very traits a weird hypnosis over its audience. The movie is so old-school it's almost new-school, which is maybe why it feels almost like a treat, or indeed, almost like a movie. If these praises are distinctly qualified, they are not in every sense a put-down. True, the movie is so fragile in its lily whiteness that everyone on screen visibly clenches when the opening beats of Missy Misdemeanor Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" accidentally blurt from a backyard radio. (Dials are adjusted and a crisis thereby averted.) Also true, the placid sweetness of the movie's long center is bordered on each end by pure, distilled banality. But A Walk to Remember isn't as forgettable as anyone would expect, and a modest, fresh-scrubbed parable of teenage adoration is hardly unwelcome in the contemporary multiplex.

Shane West, part of the remarkably plausible teenage ensemble of TV's Once & Again, co-stars with Mandy Moore, a pop tart who demonstrates her newfound seriousness by going brunette. West plays Landon Carter, a scrappy underachiever and buried treasure among a raffish crowd of bored teenagers. Landon is the son of a divorced single mother (Daryl Hannah, contagiously brunette!), which is usually a good sign in movies like this that he isn't unreedemable. Mom, like Delphi, will eventually reveal herself as a conveniently nearby source of Female Wisdom when it's time for his character to grow up and into love. Meanwhile, Moore's character is Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of a reverend (Peter Coyote) who likes her hems long, her sweaters dowdy, and her Bible at no more than an arm's reach away. Jamie does not stride through the high school beating her Good Book; Hollywood doesn't like their religious folks to get too religious, lest they turn into Piper Laurie in Carrie. Still, she may as well be Margery Kempe for the cold shoulder she gets from the cool kids, until Landon meets her as a fellow castmate in the school musical.

Plot summary would be insulting as well as redundant in a review like this. It's all standard-issue stuff: Landon and Jamie are initially friends when other people aren't around, then they squabble, then there's some "Who Cares What People Say?" public canoodling—but remember, this is a reverend's daughter. The Christian Coalition, though it didn't fund the movie directly, was recruited as a demographic "advisor" during A Walk to Remember's script development, and the Lord's impress is palpable in Landon and Jamie's chaste, demure courtship. Importantly, though, this soft-spoken fable convinces us of something that a million shouting parents and teachers have struggled to defend: chastity can be endearing. This is one teenage movie where no one has sex with a pie, much less with each other. When Landon and Jamie crave a trip to the stars, they actually haul out a telescope, proving (I guess) that some of today's kids still know what those are. When Landon wants to give Jamie a present, he doesn't spend any money, and he doesn't flash any biceps. He drives her to the state line, where she unwittingly realizes her poetic dream of being "in two places at once." It's the movie's best and in many ways it's defining moment: too cute to be believed, maybe, but it's the disbelief that's so infectious, reminding us that movie romances used to warm us with unimagined tendernesses, not the rote sass or consumerist spectacle of post-Pretty Woman courtship rituals.

A Walk to Remember's script is both utterly predictable and completely unduplicated among contemporary releases. The real template for this picture isn't quite revealed until the last third, when Landon learns that love means never having to say you're sorry. Probably the audiences who don't understand that allusion will be Walk's most satisfied patrons, especially in the draggy closing sequences before the obvious finale. They may even buy a penultimate, jaw-droppingly literal sequence set in a church, though the full range of ages represented by my own audience pretty much found it a howler. Karen Janszen's script embarrasses itself a little bit, but if West and Moore manage not to, it's a testament to the comfy sincerity with which they've assumed these roles. Part of love, especially young love, involves looking a little silly, and A Walk to Remember survives its own excesses by being honest about what it is: wholly un-groundbreaking, deeply conservative, increasingly sentimental, but reflecting some of the best of those qualities. Grade: C+

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