Go ahead and cry. You know you want to.
Why else would you read a book by – or, in keeping with our purposes here, see a movie based on a book by – Nicholas Sparks?
Sparks, a fixture of the best-seller lists, has patented a melodramatic formula that carefully blends soft-focus spiritual inspiration, desperate longing and a strikingly benign view of death in “Dear John,” now on DVD
His universe is a place where comfort and pain are hard to tell apart because they both elicit tears. And tears are always the goal.
In Mr. Sparks’ novels, of which there are now 15, impossible, star-crossed loves, often shadowed by illness and death, have an odd way of producing happy, or at least blissfully cathartic, endings. He is a master of the feel-good weepie, a form of mass-market deep-tissue massage.
“Dear John,” the latest attempt to bring his warm, earnest, therapeutic sensibility to the screen, falls in the upper middle range of Sparks film adaptations. If it lacks the epic sweep and extravagant emotionalism of “The Notebook” – Oh, Ryan and Rachel! Oh, James and Gena! – it also is free of the creepy piety and watered-down eros of “A Walk to Remember.”
In the hands of director Lasse Hallstrom, a blue-chip hack with a sure touch even when he’s slumming for a paycheck, this story of interrupted passion takes on a ripe, summery glow.
In “The Road,” the father and son, played by Viggo Mortensen and a wonderfully sensitive young actor named Kodi Smit-McPhee, drift through a world ruined by an unspecified cataclysm.
A few flashbacks of ease and sunlight conjure the time before, when there was a mother on the scene, glowingly incarnated by Charlize Theron.
Then something happened – Nuclear war? Environmental disaster? – that left a lot of people dead, threw the mother into despair and gutted the civilization those of us in the comfort of the multiplex take for granted.
The most arresting aspect of “The Road” is just how fully the filmmakers have realized this bleak, blighted landscape of a modern society reduced to savagery. A grimy, damp fog hangs over everything, and instead of birdsong there is the eerie creak and crash of falling trees.
Vehicles sit abandoned on highways, houses stand looted and vacant, and what used to be towns are afterimages of violence and wreckage.