Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Walk To Remember.

A Walk To Remember (Adam Shankman, 2002) 

Today's post features a guest take from American Studies enthusiast and FOTB Katie Ross. Hilariously, this is the only movie at which she has really cried. Feel free to ridicule her on the street for that.

Also, stay tuned for an important blog announcement at the end of this post, if you somehow make it to the end of this post.

Category: Sparks. This is the fourth of the six Sparks films that I have covered for the blog. The first three were all over the map. We’ve gone from awfully entertaining, to entertainingly awful, to just awful. I don’t know where we go from here.

Aside from being a sad film about memorable walks, I hear that this is a sad movie about sick teenagers. We’ve done sick kids, sick adults, sick geriatrics: all tragic in their own way, of course, but I have a feeling this category will lend itself to a really high level of angst. Because let’s face it: healthy teens have plenty of angst as it is. Throw in a dash of cancer, and you can just hear the Dawson’s Creek song playing on repeat. Lots of feelings in play.

My familiarity with this issue: I know plenty about doomed teen romances. In my experience, they were doomed because the girl didn’t know my name, or had an actual boyfriend. None of them had cancer, though. It is tough for me to relate to this stuff, as the worst disease anyone at my high school had was diabetes.

I’m not very familiar with Mandy Moore, and I think that’s fair. She burst on to the scene in the late 90s/early 00s, overshadowed by Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson in the “teen girl pop sensation” department. I don’t think I could name one of her songs besides “Candy,” which I remember being terrible. Her film career was slightly more successful. She’s well-known for dating a bunch of famous men, like Andy Roddick and Zach Braff and Ryan Adams, to whom she is now (hilariously) married. (This is the same Ryan Adams who has had people kicked out of his concerts when they cheekily requested “Summer of ‘69.” And now he’s married to the star of How to Deal.)

As for my familiarity with the movie/its ending: I basically know how it ends, but I don’t know anything else of significance about the movie. (I do have on good authority that the music of Switchfoot is featured prominently in the film. As a long-standing fan of the ‘foot, I can scarcely contain my excitement.) As for the whole teen romance angle, since it’s a Sparks film, it can go one of two ways: (1) the girl is rich, the guy is poor, and the girl’s family thinks she’s too good for him, or (2) the guy is rich, the girl is poor, and the guy’s family thinks she’s too good for him. Draaaaama!

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “In a coastal North Carolinian small town in the mid 1990's, a boy from the popular but troubled undirected group of students gets busted, and for punishment, you guessed it, has to do community service activities which include the high school's spring play. This throws him in with the minister's daughter, you guessed it, the mousy seemingly awkward yet beautiful girl with an angelic heart, and she sings too. They grow hesitantly closer than their previous adversarial relationship as old bonds are tested and new awarenesses are inspired.” “YOU GUESSED IT.” Don’t act like you’re better than the plot summary thing, Scott from Milwaukee.

What FOTB Katie Ross thought of the movie: I would not say that I am a crier in movies. As local film minor/connoisseur [Editor’s Note: #getout] and FOTB Micah Lubens astutely pointed out, crying in a movie is perfectly acceptable, as it “only proves that you have empathy and are therefore human.” I agree with this. However, I believe there is a difference between getting a little misty-eyed in a Pixar flick, and bawling your eyes out in a theater full of strangers. Although I often get a little choked up in sad movies, the only movie that I can remember sobbing openly for many minutes to in a crowded(ish) theater is A Walk to Remember.

After re-watching the movie this weekend with John, I have come to the conclusion that my overly emotional reaction to this movie was not a cause of the beautifully written story, or the superb acting (unless I was crying because I had shoved a sharp pencil in my eye), but because of the “wait, CANCER?!” reaction. A very important part of my experience with this movie is that I had absolutely NO clue what I was seeing when I sat down in the theater. It could have been a trashy teen movie about a walk of shame for all I knew. [Editor’s Note: brb writing that movie now and calling it A Walk to Forget.] And it starts just like EVERY other high school romantic comedy. Plot: cool kids are really mean, particularly to this one nerdy hot girl (for seemingly no reason) who apparently no one can tell is hot (mind-boggling). The bad boy falls for nerdy girl and they have their summer fling. How that movie is supposed to end is one of them goes to college on the East Coast and one on the West, and they are sad because it has to end. But in this twisted version, instead of college ending it all, the nerdy religious girl has CANCER.

The scene where Jamie (Mandy Moore) tells Landon (Shane West) about it is filmed in a way that basically slaps the audience across the face with it. Jamie and Landon are walking down Main Street together (probs where the title comes from) and they turn the corner down this deserted road and all of a sudden, BAM she has cancer. There are zero signs throughout the movie that she is even a little bit sick. Despite the first hour and fifteen minutes of the movie seeming like it is in slow motion and dragging on for centuries, the cancer bit is on fast forward. There is no thought put into establishing how much time has passed, and the next thing you know they are getting married. She seems to die two or so days afterwards, and then the movie is over.

So yeah, I cried. I fell for Sparks's cheap ploy for getting his audience to taste his sad. Whatever. It just proves that I have empathy and am therefore human. Yup.

What I thought of the movie: Ugh. It’s just so lazy. As Katie points out, this opposites attract thing has been done in just about every movie about high school romances, and I guess that makes sense: in theory, these couplings should be far more interesting than ones involving members of the same clique. (Popular kids get together in high school all the time, and it always ends the same way: in tears at the abortion clinic.) The problem is that it’s been done so many times by this point that it’s not interesting anymore. Plus, in this movie, we’ve got a bunch of hackneyed Sparks themes on top of all the other clichés. Sure, there are dashes of crazy here and there which I’m happy to deconstruct for all of you. But there’s very little that was original about the movie at all, and what's more, the movie didn't really seem to want to make us care about it in any authentic way.

I won't go through the entire plot, partially because any one of us could have basically written this thing. Shane West, the bad boy, is up to some hijinks, so to punish him, the principal makes him tutor underprivileged kids (which seems like a dumb idea, considering the fact that he’s almost certainly a terrible student), help out the janitorial staff, and help out with the school play. Except “help out,” for some reason that is not even remotely explained, quickly becomes “read the lead role in the first rehearsal.” OK fine, trying to get the new kid involved. He's uninterested and reads it poorly, and everyone's had their fun. Maybe he can help building the sets or being on the run crew or wait what, they just GIVE HIM the lead role?! What? I can just imagine the poor gay kid who was in line for that role getting very upset about this. There'd also probably be tense Board of Education meetings filled with shouting parents over this (at least on Long Island there would be). But in this movie everyone just accepts it.

We really should talk about the play for a second, because it is twelve different kinds of ridiculous. It’s an original musical, with music and lyrics written by Mandy Moore’s character, set in the ‘20s, and it features Shane West as the tough gangster and Mandy Moore as the glamorous nightclub singer. That’s all we learn about the plot of the show. During the performance, we see Shane West mumble all his lines (PROJECT, Shane, PROJECT). The biggest question I have is: if it’s a musical, and Shane West is playing the lead, wouldn’t he sing in it? We don’t see him sing at all, nor do we have any indication that he can sing, or is learning how to sing, or anything like that. We only see one song (which, hilariously, is actually a song by Switchfoot interpreted in the play by Mandy Moore; if Switchfoot had any credibility, this scene would have surely destroyed it), but we know that Shane West has a lot of lines, and that it is a musical, and usually musicals have more than one song, and the lead characters usually... you know what, I give up. Whatever. It’s a musical with one song and no plot. Let’s move on.

So let’s talk about preacher’s daughter/bangs enthusiast Mandy Moore, who as Katie notes is inexplicably and consistently mocked by the popular crowd, including Shane West, who does so less viciously the other kids (because of his sensitive side). She lets it roll off her back, though, because Jesus is her co-pilot. Shane and Mandy are forced to interact with each other what with the tutoring and the play. They develop something like a friendship (although there is the requisite scene where he pretends to not really be friends with her in order to save face in front of the cool kids) and engage in semi-philosophical conversations about vaguely Christian topics. Shane’s more cynical about life than Mandy, which really doesn’t make any sense considering (a) that her mom apparently has died, and (b) the cancer-stricken elephant in the room. But she’s not intimidated by his bad boy side or his general doofishness, and spunkily tells him all about her bucket list (the urgency of which is not yet clear to the audience). 

Inevitably, he falls in love with her; incredibly, he does so DURING the play, when she’s wearing her slinky nightclub dress, and her hair is all done up, and he looks at her while she’s singing her Switchfoot song and realizes that she’s actually super-hot. (That certainly helps when you're falling in love with a loser.) Didn’t they have a dress rehearsal for this show? Didn’t he see her backstage beforehand? After the play, there are the standard obstacles to them getting together. The cool kids disapprove, her father the preacher isn’t keen on it, etc. (By the way, the preacher is the only character in the movie with a Southern accent, even though I think it’s set in North Carolina. That's because it's a rule in movies that angry Christian preachers must have Southern accents.) They go out to dinner and dance (even though he says he literally doesn’t know how to dance was there no choreography in this musical?), and he helps her accomplish some of the things on her list; most vomit-inducingly, “being in two places at once” (she straddles the state line and is thus in two states at once, CLEVER). 

And then, as Katie puts it, BAM she has cancer. She’s mad that he fell in love with her (even though she specifically asked him not to earlier in the film, in a line that caused me to suffer an eye injury due to excessive rolling), because, as she says, “I do not need a reason to be angry with God.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but doesn’t she have, like, several reasons already? She’s eighteen and has never done anything wrong in her entire life. But this movie is very Christian, so no one says that out loud. In the last few months of her life, he helps her cross off the last few things from her bucket list. He builds a telescope that looks like a giant pill bottle, and marries her in the church where her mom was married, and then she dies. It’s par for the course in the sadness department as compared to the other Sparkses, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as Katie pointed out, it's all very abrupt and feels tacked-on to a movie that is otherwise very deliberate in its badness. Weird.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: All that theater stuff kept me engaged, as you can tell. The thing is that Shane West is not a good actor, as evidenced by the fact that he has not been in anything else of note since this movie (no, I did not forget about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). So he’s convincing in the early theater scenes, when he’s supposed to be bad. But then after the play, everyone says, "Wow, you were amazing, we had no idea!" And maybe they're like regular theater people who say nice things to your face but then talk shit behind your back. But I feel like the movie is too nice for that and wants us to believe that he actually WAS good. So that’s awkward.

I found it interesting that, since the TQ (tripe quotient) was heavily skewed toward teen-movie and vague Christian themes, there was precious little room for Sparks’s usual treacle. There’s an almost entirely unnecessary subplot about Shane’s relationship with his estranged father, which is classic Sparks. But the best thing in the movie is that every now and then, there are brief, random shots of the water, boats on docks and all that, for no reason. They have no significance to the story at all. Shane and Mandy never go on a boat. They don’t really walk by the water. Most of their walking is done through a graveyard (FORESHADOWING) to where her telescope has a good view or whatever. It seems to me that they are only in the movie to reflect what I’m sure were many, many descriptions of water in the book. I imagine Sparks seeing a rough cut of the movie without the water shots and saying, “Listen, it’s great, but can you add more shots of the water? It’s kind of a theme.”

There is one line in the movie that I actually really liked. On their first date, Shane says to Mandy, “I might kiss you,” to which Mandy responds, “I might be bad at it.” That felt authentic to me. It’s a big concern for people who have never kissed before, and occasionally a recurring concern for people in their mid-twenties, I hear. So that was actually very nice, and even made me smile a bit. And then Shane says, “That’s not possible,” and I got mad again. Of course it’s possible! People can be really bad at kissing! What if she bit your face? Ughhhh.

How I felt after the movie ended: I had to console Katie for a good twenty minutes. No that’s not true. She was fine this time. I was actually quite chuffed at the end of the film, because I totally called one of the last lines. Mandy’s ambition, according to her yearbook, was to witness a miracle. The epilogue of the film features Shane visiting the preacher four years after her death, and Shane says, “I’m sorry she never got her miracle.” I said, “Yes she did. It was you,” right before the preacher did. Maybe you had to be there.

The movie has taught me one thing, though: always beware of the sudden cancer revelation. Usually when someone stops to tell me something serious, it's that my fly is open. But now I'm on high alert. Both for my fly being open and for my close friends having cancer.

BLOG ANNOUNCEMENT: This presupposes that (a) any of you care whether or not I update this blog at all and (b) you are not one of the handful of people I’ve already mentioned this to. (Both of which are pretty presumptuous assumptions.) The blog will be taking a hiatus for a while. At least a month or so. (That sound you just heard was all the FsOTB heaving a sigh of relief.)

Further presupposing that any of you care why I’ve made this announcement: I have been writing this blog with varying degrees of regularity for eight months. It’s safe to say I’m a little burned out. I think it’ll serve the blog well to shut down and retool for a little while, and come back with a fresh perspective.

So. There’s that. Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll see you on the other side.


  1. I just checked, and I have 62 Mandy Moore songs on my iPod.

  2. If your goal was to make me sad today, you've succeeded. "Taste My Indignation" is definitely my favorite "blog written by someone with whom I'm personally acquainted" on my entire RSS reader and it will be missed. Here's hoping you get back on the horse soon.

  3. I haven't watched it in probably over a decade but the way I remember it, after she admits she has cancer the rest of the movie is just a montage.. Her health really took an immediate turn once she acknowledged that she had cancer, out loud

  4. Best exchange that I will never forget:

    Shane West: Are you scared?
    Mandy Moore: To death.

  5. The only way this movie could be worse if it was about Kenny Rogers and the 1999 NLCS.

  6. John,
    This is one long blog post, and all for a Mandy Moore movie? That may explain the burned out feeling. Have a good break from the blog. I assume you'll be watching funny movies and enjoying the summer. I wrote this comment primarily to say hello to Katie Ross.