Walk to Remember, A (United States, 2002)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Note to readers: This review contains spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Romance, tears, and not a well-developed character in sight - what more could one expect from the director of The Wedding Planner? Once again, director Adam Shankman has foisted upon the public a production so narrowly targeted that a majority of movie-goers will ignore its existence. In the case of A Walk to Remember, the only people likely to have nice things to say about what's on the screen are girls in their pre-teen and early teenage years, and the word "discrimination" is rarely used to describe their movie-going habits.

With this feature, viewers get two narrative arcs for the price of one. What starts out as a formulaic high school love story of opposites attracting abruptly changes into a maudlin tear-jerker. Of course, in order to cram two staple stories into a single 100-minute motion picture, corners have to be cut. So characters are poorly developed, subplots are wrapped up in fast and unconvincing ways, and the entire production feels rushed. One could make an argument that teenage girls have a longer attention span than their male counterparts (after all, they sat through three-plus hours of Titanic repeatedly), but the filmmakers responsible for A Walk to Remember weren't taking any chances. There's no fat to be found on the movie's bare-bones skeleton. Unfortunately, there's no meat, either.

A Walk to Remember begins in typical good girl-meets-bad boy fashion. The former is Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore), a cute high school senior who sings in the church choir and looks like she's about 14. We know she's a geek because she's into astronomy. (Nit-pick alert: almost every detail concerning telescopes and the night sky is inaccurate.) The latter is Landon Carter (Shane West), who's in the top echelon of the school's in-crowd. We know he's cool because he drives a hot car. One day, Landon gets busted for an infraction that involves alcohol and trespassing, and his punishment is to participate in the school play. He has trouble learning his lines, and, rather than embarrass himself in front of the entire school, he decides to make an effort. So he goes to Jamie, the female lead, for help. Landon grovels a little, and she comes to his aid, although he still doesn't want to be seen with her in public. However, their secret friendship develops into something more, and soon Landon is defending Jamie from the barbed attacks of his "friends". They admit their love for one another, then Jamie drops the bombshell: she's terminally ill. Cue the sad music and the switch in tone from cute to painfully manipulative.

It's possible to make a good motion picture using a formulaic storyline, provided that the characters inhabiting that movie are well-developed and likable. Unfortunately, in A Walk to Remember, we are presented with types who are ineffectively and inadequately fleshed out. Instead of real human beings, we have stereotypes. Perhaps in Nicholas Sparks' novel, Landon and Jamie come alive, but an author can do a lot more in several hundred pages of text than a filmmaker can do in 100 minutes. And the limited dramatic range of the leads doesn't help, either. Shane West (the male star of the forgettable Whatever It Takes) looks and acts like just about every good-looking male performer of his age. Mandy Moore, better known for singing than acting, shows a certain charisma but is not consistently convincing. She's better than Mariah Carey and the 'Nsync boys, but that's not saying much. (Of course, she gets to sing a couple of songs.) A weary Peter Coyote plays Jamie's preacher father, and a haggard Daryl Hannah (has she ever looked so old?) is Landon's mom.

I might have been willing to call the film inconsequential-but-passable if it wasn't for the final half hour, in which the director tries relentlessly to milk tears from the audience. I was strongly reminded - and not favorably - of the Leelee Sobieski romantic melodrama Here on Earth, with the notable difference that Sobieski can act circles around Moore. Nevertheless, as is only the case in movies, Moore manages to look more beautiful as the disease progresses. (One minor point in Shankman's favor: he spares us the death scene.) Like Message in a Bottle, the other Sparks book made into a movie, A Walk to Remember aims for the tearducts. Unlike the earlier film, it scores a clean miss.

I won't claim that A Walk to Remember is unendurable, just uninspired, although it can boast one of the most inventive product placements in recent memory. I can't imagine the film having much success at the box office. Moore will attract some attention, but not enough to make a big splash. Recent movies starring singers haven't fared well (witness the reception of Glitter and On the Line), and there's no reason to believe this one will do any better. The target audience may enjoy the film, but there's little hope than anyone other than 11-15-year old girls will be willing to endure Shankman's curdled concoction. There's nothing remotely memorable about this walk.

Walk to Remember, A (United States, 2002)

Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, Al Thompson, Daryl Hannah
Screenplay: Karen Janszen, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Cinematography: Julio Macat
Music: Mervyn Warren
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:41
U.S. Release Date: 2002-01-25
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1