Dear JohnThe following “review” is actually a direct transcription of a conversation that took place between myself and my ever-reliable neighbourhood GP, the inimitable Dr Shonk (the Crikey legal department insisted his name be changed due to privacy concerns). I brought to our appointment my Dictaphone pen and a peculiar sickness of which no medical dictionary appears to be capable of explaining. This…is my story. Well not really – it’s just a transcript of my doctor’s appointment. Coming up next week: when Luke goes to the dentist. But for now, without further adieu, here is my most recent appointment with Dr Shonk…

Me: Morning Doc. Thanks again for seeing me at such short notice.

Dr Shonk: No problems Luke, take a seat. We had a few cancellations today anyway. It seems a highly contagious skin fungus is going around and it started from this office. Anyway, how are you sleeping these days? Wanna use my back scratcher? The pointy bits are made of elephant tusks. Firm but sort of natural. I like that.

Me: I’m still having those dreams, doc. The ones where I’m talking to people and I make an annoying habit of coining expressions that don’t make sense. It’s a real penis in the craw.

Dr Shonk: So, shall I do the usual and shove this whatchamacallit on your tongue and point this magnifying thingymajiggy in your ear then write you a certificate for the days you missed at work? What was it this time – fatigue? The Oscars? Re-watching The Breakfast Club? Sitting on the toilet reading the First Dog on the Moon calendar over and over?

Me: No, it’s serious this time Doc. I feel ill. You know how you can get food poisoning? Well, can you get cinema poisoned? Movie poisoned? Is that possible?

Dr Shonk: I’ve heard of stranger things, Luke. For example I just spoke with a patient who thinks your reviews are even-handed and well informed. I said, are you reading Luke or are you reading Roger f-cking Ebert? Anyway, when did you first start noticing symptoms?

Me: It was yesterday. I was watching a movie. This romantic drama called Dear John. I thought Christ, this movie, you know, it makes me wanna write a god damn Dear John Letter. I’d make some kinda lame joke of that in my review if I had no shame. My shame, as you know, well, it comes and goes.

Dr Shonk: Never heard of it. Are you going to tell me what this movie’s about, just in case – oh I don’t know – just case you’re secretly recording this conversation on the over-sized pen in your breast pocket and planning on using it as a substitute for a review you can’t be bothered writing?

Me: Well lemme say first of all that this Dear John movie was based on a book by Nicholas Sparks. He’s the dude who wrote The Notebook, A Walk to Remember and Message in a Bottle, so he’s like totally into grungy sado-porn realism.  An ex-girlfriend of mine, she loved The Notebook. Said it was her favourite film of all time, Doc. Her favourite film! I mean I can understand at a push if you like it, maybe, but your favourite film? That’s when our relationship started developing some…problems. At The Notebook media screening she was sitting next to me and she sobbed. Not cried: sobbed. I said, ‘Honey, keep it down.’ This is Fern Gully 2 all freakin over again. If I had any professional integrity, well, I might’ve worried about losing it at that screening. But since you ask about this Dear John movie, it’s about a chick called Savanagh who falls in love with this beefcake guy called John. They spend two weeks together, most of it at the beach, I reckon, and then he goes off to Afghanistan and she stays at home waiting for him return. They swap some letters.

Dr Shonk: Excuse me if I’m being ignorant but didn’t they stop telling stories like this years ago? I mean you’re the expert – alleged expert, anyway – but cammon, lovesick wife stays at home doing the dishes while blokey McBuff fights for the country? You should’ve told me you were going. I could’ve prescribed you some Valium. Throw me a tenner and I’ll give you some right now.

Me: John is definitely a beefcake. If he didn’t milk the whole “waa waa I’m fighting for my country waa waa” thing he’d come across as a pretty selfish son-of-a you-know-what. He’s got people at home who need him. Like his rich beachy girlfriend and his mentally funny dad. The girlfriend reckons his dad might have autism, but John says “Meh, I’ll split the country and kill some Arabs.”

Dr Shonk: So let me guess: Savanagh writes him letters and he writes back and every one of her letters begins with “Dear John?”

Me: You betcha. It’s funny, when the lead characters are together the film is shot in almost perpetual sunlight. The sun is reflected through windows, trees, John’s chunky shoulders. It’s like light bounces off everything. And it like beams of light stream right out of the character’s arses.

Dr Shonk: So it was cheesy. Is that what you’re saying? I don’t get it. Didn’t you watch the trailer? Didn’t you hear what it was about? Surely you realised this Dear John movie wasn’t going to be social realism. I wouldn’t buy a ticket, Luke. For one thing I’ve got no time, what with all these appointments and that skin rash thing and the coroner on my back and my opiate addiction and what have you, but maybe you need to loosen up a little. You know, enjoy things for what they’re worth. Don’t go searching fiddlesticks for Fellini. I just coined that. Not bad, eh?

Me: Doc, the characters, the young ones at least, they look like they belong in surfboard commercials. And the narrative, you know, it’s pitched at a similar level.

Dr Shonk: Sounds like a total write-off. Like all that Rohypnol I “prescribed” back in the old days. Yes that’s right – I can talk in inverted commas.

Me: Just about. Where the film succeeds, or at least comes close to succeeding, is not in the romance between McBeefcake and la-di-da Savanagh but in its depiction of the relationship between John and his father. As his father, Richard Jenkins gives a sweet, sad performance. It stands out as the only redeeming factor in an otherwise very cheesy, ultra clichéd, frustrating movie, the kind of movie where you feel bad because you actually want the male lead to die ignominiously with his head face down in a big pile of mud and dung.

Dr Shonk: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you didn’t like it.

Me: Exactly. You were wrong about that congenital insensitivity to pain condition you said I had a few years back but dammit, you’re right about this. But more importantly it’s this feeling, in my stomach, Doc. This feeling, this yeck, Julie-Bishop-kill-me-now-with-your-laser-eyes feeling. It’s like I’m allergic to dairy. Too much cinema cheese.

Dr Shonk: Sounds like this movie really got to you.

Me: It sure did. It was a real penis in the craw.

Dear John’s Australian theatrical release date: March 4, 2010

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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