A Walk to Remember (2002)

A Walk to Remember
(2002, PG), starring Mandy Moore and Shane West and based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, is a coming of age drama that follows a very common plot line in teen-centered films: Popular Character looks down on socially awkward Unpopular Character; Popular Character is put in circumstances in which they get an opportunity to more closely observe Unpopular Character outside of the regular social milieu; Popular Character comes to appreciate Unpopular Character's hidden strengths and beauty while Unpopular Character starts to come out of their shell and become more outwardly confident. Eventually, Popular Character and Unpopular Character fall in love, to the dismay of all their peers. That is the plot of A Walk to Remember in a nutshell.

Set in rural North Carolina, Landon Carter is our popular but arrogant protagonist. Handsome and one of the "in crowd" as his high school, Landon gets into some trouble and is forced to do some community service and extra-curricular activities around the school, which is where he winds up crossing paths with Jamie Sullivan, the button-up sweater wearing, nerdy Bible thumping pastor's daughter who is the official dork of the school. Despite Landon's dislike for Jamie, he is forced into close company with her, working at the old folks home beside her, acting in the school play, etc. Eventually, he comes to see that this plain looking girl has quite a few hidden talents and has a true inner beauty. They of course develop a romantic interest in each other that will subsequently be challenged by  their peers and by events outside their control. The ending is bittersweet but satisfying.

A few things: A Walk to Remember, despite featuring a pastor's daughter as one of the protagonists and being heavily focused on faith, is not necessarily a Christian movie ala Fireproof or Facing the Giants. Jamie carries around a Bible, yes, and God and faith are discussed occasionally - but there is no climactic scene where Landon is invited to accept Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and everything begins to turn around. It is inferred by the end that Landon has become a believer, this transition is gradual and takes places in the very human context of Landon's efforts to learn how to care for Jamie and be the man she needs him to be. In this sense, this non-Christian film produced by Warner Brothers manages to create a more realistic portrayal of how conversions are related to human relationships. In Fireproof and Facing the Giants, the protagonist must formally convert and accept Jesus and then his circumstances change; in A Walk to Remember, the character changes in and through his circumstances, and the conversion of heart follows the circumstances, which challenge Landon and force him to step out of his comfort zone.

The acting was superb, and the soundtrack (featuring Switchfoot and several songs performed by lead actress Mandy Moore) fits admirably in with the movie's main themes. The worldly people in this film are portrayed as worldly people really are - Landon's friends, and the old Landon, cuss, act unchastely, and drink to excess. The film opens up with a typical shot of drunken teenage revelry. Be warned: the film has a very positive message, but it shows worldly people exactly as they are, cussing, scanty clothes, promiscuity and all.

Yet while the worldliness of the worldlings is very realistic, the character of Jamie Sullivan is not entirely believable. She is gets straight A's in school. She volunteers at the old folks home. She has the lead role in the school play where she writes all the music herself. She spends her nights watching the stars through a homemade telescope (apparently she does not need much sleep). She tutors at-risk students after school and she sings in the Church choir on weekends.  And she perfectly deflects all the taunts of her fellow students without missing a step.

Is she maybe a bit too perfect? Perhaps...but then again, there are other scenes where we see Jamie doing things that a Christian girl of her character would never do; she stays out all night with Landon again and again, and in one scene reveals her shoulder to him so he can put a temporary tattoo on it. Sometimes she is too perfect, other times she puts herself in very near occasions of sin. Perhaps this is poor screen writing, or perhaps it is great screen writing - Jamie, after all, may be acting like a normal Christian, disposed towards choosing the good but prone to fall when tempted as well. Jamie never does fall, though, and that is a redeeming factor. When all is said and done, she comes across as just a normal girl with normal teenage dilemmas about the boundaries of proper behavior.

This film did surprisingly bad at the box office and got generally poor reviews, although it does enjoy popularity in Christian circles. It's story is quite engaging, the acting is well done, and its character development is more realistic and better than some other popular Christian films. The film depicts some unchaste behavior here and there, but stops short of outright fornication. There is cussing, but it is not gratuitous, and it is used to contrast the worldliness of some minor characters with the purity of Jamie and the reformed Landon. The religious element is dealt with tactfully and integrated into the real relationship that develops between Landon and Jamie.

I give the film three tiaras.