A Mawk to Dismember
Landon Carter is one of the Bad Kids of Beaufort, North Carolina, where no one speaks with a Southern accent: He drinks beer on school property. He teases the unpopular kids. Oh my gosh. He’s a rebel without a hint of James Dean, and if something isn’t done to straighten this guy out, goodness knows what sort of thing he might fall into next. He might start smoking cigarettes!
Greetings from the 1950s. The thing is, though, that A Walk to Remember, the movie, is set in 1996. A Walk to Remember, the novel, is set in 1958, and apparently screenwriter Karen Janszen felt no updating whatsoever was indicated. (The novel was written by Nicholas Sparks, who also wrote the book upon which the Kevin Costner mawkfest Message in a Bottle was based. Be afraid.) So it’s fitting, in this time-warp Pleasantville, that the key to getting Landon on the straight and narrow is in forcing him to tutor “disadvantaged” (ie, not-white) kids and in forcing him to join the drama club. Seems like this is punishing the kids who need tutoring and the kids who actually care about the drama club, but what do I know? I wasn’t a cool rebel like Landon in high school.
In the course of these degrading and boring activities, Landon is also forced into close proximity to the dork to end all dorks, Jamie Sullivan. Jamie is “ugly” because she is pop tartlet Mandy Moore (Bubble Boy, The Princess Diaries) without her Jon-Benet makeup, and she is “boring” because she is the second coming of Ned Flanders. In truth, she is the most boring kind of fictional character imaginable: she is perfect. She doesn’t care what her fellow students think about her, she has the consummate comeback for all their idiotic remarks, she doesn’t have any horizons that need expanding, she doesn’t need to grow or change at all. Her Bible shields her from the world. She is unreal.
Will Landon fall in love with her? Will she reveal her deep, dark secret, the one we’d guessed from the beginning but at which we will still howl with derisive laughter when she does? Will the audience survive the movie without their sides splitting? I think you already know the answers.
This isn’t quite Glitter, but almost: Let’s call it this month’s Glitter. (Next month’s will be Britney’s Crossroads, and hoo boy, I can’t wait for that one.) What is it about being a pop queen that makes a gal think she can act? I can understand the impulse of a Hollywood producer to cast such a gal, sure that gold records will translate into boffo box office. But I can’t understand the utter lack of self-awareness on the part of these women. Maybe it’s that talent has so little to do with being a pop queen that they figure, Hey, I could be an actress, too. God help us if what they really want is to direct.
Mandy scrunches her face at Shane, and this magically transforms him from a huge teenage asshole into an impossibly romantic young man, one who scrunches his face back at her, in the language of bad teen actors portraying puppy love. It’s the kind of hopelessly naive drivel 16-year-old girls dream about — getting the cute, popular boy (even if he is an asshole) to like you, to fall in love with you, yet not want to Do That with you — and it’s excusable, if not endurable, coming from a lonely high school girl. It’s inexcusable coming from grownup filmmakers. And when a ridiculous dreamboat of a boy declares his love not quite halfway through the movie, well, it creates a kind of hilarious suspense as things go from dumb to dumber and the film builds to a crescendo of absurdity: Will this be the scene in which I lose it, or will it be the next one during which I bust a gut laughing?