There are some names that sometimes induce fear into some people – one such name being Nicholas Sparks. I am guilty of being someone who never really understood the appeal of Sparks’ work. I always associated him with melodramatic, overly saccharine, clichéd stories that don’t have much under the surface. However, sometimes someone can be proven wrong, and I realized today that giving something like a Nicholas Sparks adaptation a chance can actually result in a pretty lovely film experience. While it may not be the very definition of a masterpiece, A Walk to Remember is a sweet and very touching film that is far better than people give it credit for.
Like every Nicholas Sparks novel and the subsequent adaptation, A Walk to Remember is about two lovers who fall in love and face challenges. In the case of A Walk to Remember, those young lovers are high-schoolers Jamie (Mandy Moore) and Landon (Shane West) – she is a quietly shy and timid, but faithful Christian girl and the son of the local preacher (Peter Coyote), and he is a massively popular guy who is the school’s heartthrob. A chance encounter between them, surrounding their involvement in a play, sets off romantic fireworks, and they come to find that they are perfect for each other. It may be a cliché, but A Walk to Remember is certainly a very touching and warm film that tells a simple story, and never strives to be anything it shouldn’t be.
Let me just get the big issue everyone seems to have about this film out of the way – the saccharine, corny nature of the story. Honestly, one can’t deny that this film is pretty clichéd at some parts – but why couldn’t it be? There is absolutely nothing wrong with a film being over-reliant on emotion, and to be perfectly honest, it isn’t entirely the fault of the film that Sparks seems to enjoy writing these kinds of sappy, over-emotional stories. However, I was surprised to find the huge amount of restraint behind this film quite pleasing – while there are moments of undeniable sappiness and over-excessive emotion, they aren’t that bad and actually serve to be quite moving at times. I will be completely honest and say for every misguided problem with this film that people are eager to pick on, there is something else this film does wonderfully.
Let’s start with the performances – to their credit, Nicholas Sparks movies attract quite high-profile stars to the or serve to be showcases for more unknown but somewhat talented performers. A Walk to Remember features two very charismatic and talented leads. While Shane West may fall short on a few occasions of reaching a perfectly-crafted character, he manages to be dedicated to the role enough to make Landon a very likable individual, who undergoes a solid emotional arc. Mandy Moore is really great as well, and manages to steal the film entirely, her waifish likability and soft-spoken sweetness contributing the overall emotional engagement present in the film. The lead actors have amazing chemistry, and work off each other well. It may not be the very definition of perfect acting, but this is not a perfect film at all – rather, it is a solidly entertaining and very sweet feel with even its worst flaws being likable. Look out for supporting performances from the likes of Darryl Hannah and Peter Coyote, who turn in respectable performances that help drive this film forward.
There are some things that A Walk to Remember do very well that deserve mentioning. For example, the representation of Christianity in this film. A Walk to Remember is a film that has faith at its core – the main character of Jamie is devoutly religious, and it certainly plays a very important part in the plot of this film. It is a vital theme, and it drives the story forward and allows for various characters to explain their motivations. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see how this film presents religion – it shows it as something that people can follow and have as the main force in their life without forcing it onto others. It presents the religious characters in this film as level-headed, logical and ultimately understanding people that are able to let religion define their lives, without making them preachy or overly judgmental. Even Jamie’s father, an actual pastor, doesn’t let religion blind him from being logical when Landon approaches him for his approval – in a world where religion is sometimes forced too strongly in movies, it was refreshing to see religion in a film that remained a central theme without being the driving factor of the film. It just added to the characterization, without ever distracting from the central story.
The other aspect of A Walk to Remember that is worth mentioning is how it takes a slightly unconventional look at teenagers. There are many tropes of what teenagers are supposed to be represented on film. A Walk to Remember makes the two main characters actually seem somewhat realistic – they are shown to be complex characters capable of genuine human emotion, and not just one-dimensional stereotypes. Part of that is due to the talented leads, but the development of these characters through the story make them a lot more believable than many other representations of teenagers. All the characters in this film are able to see their faults and actually adjust their views, which is quite unheard of in many of these kinds of films.
However, A Walk to Remember is not without its flaws. The biggest problem with this film isn’t the sappy tendency to be overemotional, but rather the issues with the plot. This film starts with a near-tragedy where a boy is almost killed and is left paralyzed – and with the exception of a single visit to the victim, this piece of plot seems unnecessary. There are also a few characters that are just not needed, because they serve very little purpose – either it is possible to get rid of them entirely, or develop them further, but instead a few are left in some kind of limbo, where they aren’t characterized properly. However, small plot issues aside, A Walk to Remember is a relatively harmless and lovely little film.
I have to say that I went into A Walk to Remember with an open mind – and I have to say, this film was made for a certain audience, those who love these kinds of films driven by romance and emotion. Obviously those who aren’t interested in that kind of thing are going to not necessarily enjoy this film, particularly those who are watching this film simply for the intention of hating it. I actually really enjoyed it, and I was able to see that while A Walk to Remember does have some flaws, and it is far from a perfect film, it has a genuinely good heart and its intentions are pure. It wants to show a simple love story, and it succeeds. It may not be pivotal filmmaking, but if we are talking about films driven by emotion and romance, you could certainly do worse than A Walk to Remember. It is a comforting and serene film, and it achieves exactly what it set out to do.