Does A Walk To Remember Still Hold Up?
For the longest time, I have been wanting to do a series about old chick flicks and romance films to see if they were really as good or bad as we remember them being. As time goes by, films take on cult fanbases or haters that seem to develop further and further as the years go by. This can cause us to misremember how good or bad it actually was and take the public’s word, or that of our younger selves.
I wanted to take a look back at a film that I loved very dearly as a pre-teen: A Walk To Remember. Based on the Nicholas Sparks book of the same name, A Walk To Remember is the tale of badboy high schooler Landon Carter, whose life is changed forever after getting to know Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of his reverend. As we all know, Nicholas Sparks stories are notoriously cheesy and regarded as fluffy. But I personally thought this was a particularly strong story in his repertoire.
Disclaimers: This critique is based on the 2002 film adaptation of the book, and not the novel.
This article will absolutely spoil the ending of the film, as it’s a major factor in discussing/critiquing the film. If you don’t want to know the ending of the film or book, turn back now.
The Ideal Audience
This section specifies the audience I feel this film is intended for, and will potentially frame how i will judge its quality
This movie is clearly ideal for teenagers who want to watch something dramatic and romantic geared towards them. I would also say that this is a nice movie for the whole family to watch together, as its messages are relevant to people of any age, and can spark up a healthy discussion at the dinner table the next day. It’s not the most sophisticated film in the world, but it’s also not trying to be. It doesn’t act like it’s Citizen Kane or attempting to change your life. It knows it’s a drama for teens and does everything in its power to play to that aspect.
Things I Couldn’t Take Seriously
this section describes moments in the film that i had a hard time believing based on the depiction of the film’s universe and characters
Daryl Hannah’s Wig: I get that they didn’t want Daryl Hannah’s cameo to be too on the nose, but anyone can recognize that woman’s face from a mile away and knows that blonde wavy locks belong on her head. Luckily, it didn’t distract too much from her great performance.
His Mother’s Support: Speaking of Landon’s mother, she’s so constantly worried about him and seemingly responsible that I’m confused as to why he’d be so dysfunctional. A boy with a track record that bad would more likely have a mom who’s sitting in a ripped nightgown making a vodka smoothie at 11AM. It makes a little more sense when you learn that he lashes out because his father abandoned the family, but with how much he gets along with his mother and how much she wants him to succeed, I’m not all the way convinced he would act out to this extent. I know that in real life, people’ relationships with their parents don’t always perfectly correlate with their behavior, but this is a fictional story. I expect to be fully convinced of why a character does what they do.
The School Play: Why would they insult the other guys in the theater class by making the kid forced to be there be the male lead? He’s reluctant to participate! This is a punishment for him almost permanently disabling a fellow classmate! Why should he get the honor of being the male lead? Because he’s handsome? The group of kids in theater seem to be really passionate about what they do. In those groups, the kids live for theater and would never want some rando from out of nowhere who makes fun of them to get the lead role. I get that throughout the process of rehearsing for the play, he respects it more, and it adds to his character development. But it was reminding me of the problems I have with High School Musical: That Troy and Gabriella get to take over the theater department with no experience because the film’s script said so.
Jamie’s Tropes: While Jamie is a well-written character, I feel she falls into one of the most cringe-inducing tropes in teen dramas. It’s the same one that Laney from She’s All That falls into, (which by the way only came out 3 years before A Walk To Remember even though they feel like they’re from completely different times.) She suffers from “glasses.” Meaning, she’s the most beautiful girl in the whole school who suffers from some tragic unfashionable trait that “hides” her beauty. For Laney, it was her glasses she needed to remove. For Jamie, it was the sweater everyone tormented her over. The hottest guy in school only falls for them once they finally see them without those accessories. Not only is it lazy writing, but it sends a message to unpopular or nerdy girls who don’t look like Mandy Moore or Rachel Leigh Cook, that not being beautiful is what’s keeping them from being accepted by others. Jamie’s beauty is what got Landon to look at her in a romantic light, but it was her ambition and confidence that got him to fall in love.
Also, Jamie is beautiful and hot, and acts like she knows how to use it way too much for me to believe that she is a big nerdy outcast. Her telling him “Promise you won’t fall in love with me” and pulling her sleeve down and asking him to put the temporary tattoo on her shoulder are things hot confident people do to seduce or play games with love interests. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things in general, but it all seemed out of character in this situation, and reminded me that I’m watching a gorgeous popstar play a misfit.
Landon’s Actions: Take for example the scene where he is flipping through his yearbook at night and comes across Jamie’s class portrait. The scene does a really good job of showing that he’s thinking about her, and reminding the audience what is most important to Jamie through her yearbook quote; However, I really laughed at the thought of Landon going through the yearbook in his spare time. In the spectrum of popular kids, the type of guy who looks at his yearbook for fun is the jock with all of his moments of teen glory sprinkled throughout the pages. For Breakfast Club fans, this would be the Andrew Clark of the school. But Landon - while popular and well-liked - is the rebel without a cause. A John Bender type if you will. And could you ever picture John Bender doing anything with a yearbook other than using its spine to light a match?
I also don’t buy that just because he loves her that he’d start listening to her Christian music for fun. Steven and I have been together for a couple of years now, and appreciate each other’s taste in music, but you won’t see me turning on a bluegrass song in my spare time, or him listening to the West Side Story soundtrack just because we have an influence on each other.
You Can’t Do That Today
THIS SECTION DISCUSSES MOMENTS OF THE FILM THAT BY TODAY’S PC STANDARDS, WOULD NOT HOLD UP
The only scene in the film I could see being insulting is when Landon’s friend Eric mutters "Dur-yuy" and makes a funny face to make fun of a mentally handicapped person. It’s extremely cringeworthy to think that was considered OK at the time, but it’s the only line in the movie I’d say stands out in that way. However one could argue that at that point in the film, all his friends are supposed to be jerks before Eric makes his transition into becoming more understanding of Landon and Jamie’s situation. And in that case, it would count as character development rather than an insulting joke.
THE CHEESE FACTOR
this section covers the moments that either didn’t age well, or were universally cheesy
You’re What?: When Eric says “You know I’m just busting on you” to Landon, I couldn’t hold it together. I’m sorry, it’s the 12 year old in me.
The Wedding Aisle Gaze: The scene in this movie that made me laugh the most was when Landon’s father looks at him as he walks down the aisle. His gaze was hilariously cheesy. I had to rewind it and watch it back about five times before I could move on. Where did they find this guy?
It Was You: One of the cheesiest lines in the movie actually stems from one of the most profound lines. When Landon tells Reverend Sullivan "I'm sorry [Jamie] never got her miracle,” the Reverend responds "She did,” and you feel your nose stinging with tears. But then he follows that subtle line with the most on the nose one the writers could have thought of: “..it was you." Yikes. Should have stopped at “She did.” The average audience member for this movie is not five, so I’m not sure why they needed to spell things out for us. I was scared that Dora The Explorer would appear on Landon’s shoulder and ask the audience what we thought Jamie’s miracle was.
WHAT Impressed Me
this section outlines the aspects of the film that i feel still hold up, and impress me as a viewer
Storytelling: I was incredibly impressed with how well this story was told. Naturally, it left out parts from the book, but it kept in everything it needed to create a flow. Steven and I always talk about how stories once told through books end up being great movies because the groundwork is already laid to create something coherent and consistent, and that is true in this film.
The Intro Scene: Everyone goes into this movie knowing they’re going to get something cheesy, romantic and religious. And that’s why it’s great that they subvert expectations by starting off with an action scene at night. It gives the film energy, and explains that this movie is more about Landon than it is about Jamie. It shows what kind of rascally kid Landon is, but at the same time, shows that he’s different from his friends in that he’s the only one who goes back to try to help Clay.
Pacing: This movie does a great job of maintaining its pace. And that’s a major feat considering its scenes could come across as mundane if not executed properly. Scenes in this film are short and to the point, with each one moving the plot along forward or proving a point, the dialogue - while cheesy - is enjoyable enough to listen to, and the movie doesn’t start to feel slow when we realize Jamie is sick - something that happens to a lot of movies once they become about an illness. Instead of feeling like the cinematic version of a Hallmark card, or a melodramatic whine-fest, this movie feels like documentation of the impact one girl’s illness and one boy’s epiphany can make on a large group of people’s lives.
The Soundtrack: One of the things I remember loving from this film as a pre-teen was its soundtrack, and most of it holds up to this day. The songs in this film do a beautiful job of setting the scene and moving the film forward. They’re all used in strategic ways and keep a balance of hard and soft that I really appreciate. I love the family-friendly Switchfoot and Mandy Moore songs, I think New Radicals’ “Mother We Just Cant Get Enough” should have been a nation-wide hit, and I even think that Cold’s “No One” playing as Landon looks through his yearbook makes a positive impact on the scene.
Memorable Scenes: Steven and I always say that the mark of a good movie is one that you can easily recall scenes of. Impactful scenes that stand alone can make an already pretty good movie great, and I think that’s true of this film. Everyone who’s watched it remembers what Jamie looked like singing in her church’s choir, how Landon taught the disinterested kid he was tutoring all about triangles, and what on Jamie’s bucket list Landon helped her to accomplish.
Jamie’s Personal Choice: I’m not a fan of the slutshame/prudeshame trend of mocking women for how they choose to/not to express themselves sexually, so I always appreciate a film where a woman is unshakable in how she wants to run her own sex-life. And that’s why I like how strongly Jamie sticks to her guns about abstaining or not taking things physically too quickly with Landon. Even when no one else is around and the two of them would have a chance to take things further, she chooses not to. It makes the whole idea feel more like her personal want, and less like something her father or church community force her into.
Questions Left Unanswered
this section discusses open ends and unanswered questions left by the flm
The Overbearing Waiter: When Landon and Jamie go on their dinner date, why does their waiter take her food away while she’s still eating? What’s the rush?
Belinda: Are we supposed to legitimately buy the apology from Landon’s ex-girlfriend Belinda towards the end of the film? The first thing we find out about this woman is that she is desperate to get Landon back despite his disinterest. She then actively tries to sabotage his next relationship, and when she apologizes after finding out his new girlfriend has cancer, she has the audacity to hug him and kiss him on the cheek while apologizing? This seemed so inauthentic, that I think it could have been left out of the whole movie. Unless of course, they’re trying to imply that he gets back together with Belinda after Jamie’s death…which of course would be blasphemy.
The Story’s Message
this section discusses what the story’s message comes across as to me during my recent viewing
Due to the fact that this film was adapted from a book and is marketed towards teens, its message is as clear as day: You have to have faith in others.
This theme of having faith in others is brought up time and time again throughout the film. And yet so many different characters learn it through different relationships, that it doesn’t feel stale by the end.
It also shows the ripple effect of having faith in others. Landon’s mother believes in him, and that gives him the will to do his volunteer work. He believes in the student he tutors, so he shows him another way of learning that will be of more interest to him. Jamie has faith in Landon, and it gets him to believe that he has a greater future ahead of him than he thought. Landon then puts more faith into his estranged father that he will finally come through for him, and it benefits their relationship. Finally, Jamie teaches her father to have more faith that she knows what’s best for her, and he learns to believe in Landon as a result. Sure not every teenager is as mature as Jamie and Landon to be left to make all their own decisions, but in this fantasy world, it was still a nice message.
And for those of you who watch this film for its Christian message, this movie also shows that the reason why Landon joined the religion was because it indicates that God always has a plan and path for you, and has faith in you that you’ll find it.
Does It Still Hold Up?
considering my full analysis, these are my final thoughts
A Walk To Remember as a film still totally holds up. Is it outdated, cheesy, unrealistic and immature? Yes. But to an extent it has to be, as it’s a romantic drama for teenagers. It doesn’t go so far as to insult its audience’s intelligence. It’s heartfelt and well written, and its characters are extremely memorable. It is one of those simple stories where the environment and stakes are so clearly defined, that the bulk of your time as the viewer is spent taking note of character development.
Something that I think really stands out about this film is Jamie’s purpose as a character. So many of these stories involving cancer patients make them out to be absolute cherubs without any flaws whose only purpose is to inspire people around them before they pass. But while this story is mostly about Landon, Jamie has her own fleshed-out story taking place with a notable character arc, and her own real struggles to overcome. In the beginning of the film, Jamie is rather anti-social, trying so hard to repel people herself by wearing outdated clothing and being an overbearing conversationalist. Landon makes her realize that her illness has made her feel afraid of prioritizing relationships or relying on anyone outside her father, and resentful of God. It’s the overcoming of those fears that create its own character arc for Jamie and a beginning, middle and end to her own story. It makes her feel like a real person with her own issues to overcome, rather than a character whose illness moves a story along.
I definitely recommend it for pre-teens and teenagers who want a love story with some very genuine depth to it. 17 years later and A Walk To Remember still holds up.
Stay tuned! I’ll be revisiting The Notebook very soon and if you enjoyed this critique, you won’t want to miss it.