A WALK TO REMEMBER
Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, Al Thompson, Daryl Hannah, Lauren German,
MPAA Rating: (for thematic elements, language and some sensual material)
Running Time: 1:40
Release Date: 1/25/02
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Let’s immediately get this out of the way: I am not the target audience of A Walk to Remember. For anyone in said audience, my opinion is of no matter. Now that we’ve cleared that up, A Walk to Remember is an after school special that’s extended to fill in the gaps left by the lack of commercials and given a wide theatrical release. It’s a soap opera for young adults, who should be at school when all the television ones are on. Its first half is composed of an annoying series of false "truths" about teenagers, and its second moves into cloying and manipulative melodrama, pulling out tricks even a soap opera would have trouble justifying. In comparison to the pretense of the first half, I actually found myself slightly admiring its later events. Not necessarily because they affected me in any way, but because they actually tried to do something a little less obvious.
Landon Carter (Shane West) seems to have it all at school. He’s popular. He has a circle of popular friends (including one African-American friend who gives new definition to the term "stereotype"). He drives a nice car. He pushes people from tall heights into the water below, causing them serious injury, and after pulling them from the water, runs off only to be caught by the police. Yes, he is just the kind of kid doing all the rebellious things all rebellious teenagers are prone to do. This incident (plus some underage drinking, which seems thrown in just to reiterate the fact he is bad) gets him in some serious trouble with the principal. He’s sentenced to do janitorial work and act in the school play. And you thought jail time was strict. At church (and the science fair and the play and walking into school), Landon sees Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore), who sings for the choir and is the reverend’s daughter. Note in her first appearance how director Adam Shankman clears up any confusion as to whom we should be focusing on by setting her in some sort of heavenly light. She’s not exactly popular and he’s on the verge of a serious life-altering change, so I guess that means they’re perfect for each other.
The life of regular high school students is distorted to the point of cliché. The opening sequence reeks of a fake attempt to find the "dark side" of youth. Then there are small details that do the same. The school play is written by one of the students, and each of the actors get a bound, seemingly published copy of the script. Here we’re presented with the typical overachiever stretched to unbelievable proportions, and for what purpose? I guess they didn’t want to have to pay royalties on an already published play. The friends exist to create weak conflict. Take for example the scene where Landon’s jealous ex-girlfriend places Jamie face on a model’s body. I must have missed how this would be embarrassing for her, because it was a stupid joke. It wasn’t mean or cruel; it made no sense. Once Landon and Jamie’s relationship starts it's drenched in scenes we’ve seen countless times before. Jamie has a list of things she wants to do with her life. One of them happens to be her desire to be in two places at once. In a moment of unintentional humor, one of Mandy Moore’s songs for the soundtrack happens to be on the radio when her character states it.
Perhaps it may seem I’m nit-picking little details, but it’s the little details that are important in movies like this. If we don’t believe the tiny elements of the movie, the more important ones will just seem even sillier. Which brings me to the major revelation of the movie. I wouldn’t dare give it away, but from what we’re given beforehand, it should be pretty easy to figure out. The movie should become much worse at this point, but it surprisingly doesn’t. The moments that result should be and are manipulative to the point of unintentional laughter, but the movie is admittedly sweet in these later scenes. The little details become a bit more bearable and believable, but the bigger ones get more ludicrous. I have no idea why, but I actually found that refreshing after its conventional premise.
A Walk to Remember pales in the faces of recent teen romances like Save the Last Dance and Crazy/Beautiful, and it certainly brings nothing new to the table. I can honestly say that I was never thoroughly annoyed with the picture, but I certainly was never entertained. It’s essentially a vehicle for its young stars, and despite increased cynicism at the prospect of another pop star in a leading role, Mandy Moore is quite surprising. I won’t hail her as a thespian yet, but perhaps given much better material, she could live up to something.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.