A Walk to Remember (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs


A Walk to Remember

Director: Adam Shankman
Cast: Mandy Moore, Shane West, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Lauren German
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-01-25

WARNING: Plot spoilers ahead.

Amid the crowd of blonde girl pop stars who rolled out at more or less the same moment (Britney, Christina, Jessica), Mandy Moore stands out. Just count the ways: she's the first to dye her hair brown; the first to pitch Neutrogena; the first to host her own MTV talk show last summer (Mandy), plus numerous gabby specials; and the youngest (she was 14 when her single, "Candy," made everyone want her and when her first album, So Real, was released in 1999, and only a year older when this album was repackaged as I Wanna Be With You). She's also the first to make it to the movies -- as a high school diva in last year's The Princess Diaries and now, as the polite, religious, excruciatingly virtuous protagonist in A Walk to Remember.

But, really, all of these firsts are less important in defining Moore's singularity than the fact that, out of this impressively talented, perfectly made-up, and terrifically bankrolled group, she is the only one who looks honestly tranquil in front of a camera. For all the practice Britney got as a Musketeer, and for all of Jessica's polished piousness and Christina's manifest confidence, they all maintain a kind of well-trained pre-packaged affect, so utterly aware of how they're being looked at and how they mean for people to interpret their actions and appearance, that they tend to look, well, stressed -- smiles a little too taut, outfits a little too sewed on, makeup a little too air-brushed.

Mandy Moore, on the other hand, looks almost preternaturally comfortable in her skin. The girl has poise for days. Okay, so her recent music video, "In My Pocket," followed the usual suit for pop stars of her moment, presenting her as something akin to sultry, and actually didn't come off as "so real." But I can't think of another pop star who handles herself so well with both mob scenes and individual fans and interviewees: she has done little skits and counseling sessions on Mandy, and teen-celeb interviews for MTV teen-celeb specials. And she quickly became MTV's go-to pop girl for hosting duties, as at last year's summer events and the 2001 New Year's bash. Through it all, even when she's flustered or on the verge of fluster, she looks fine with the whole silly business, at ease with herself, her family, and her extraordinary situation, mature enough to handle the many demands made of her. Even when critics pan her albums -- calling them, say, "overproduced," "bland" -- Moore looks fine. Selling more records than everyone else, making more money than god -- who cares? The girl is hard not to like.

This charismatic self-security is both a help and a hindrance in A Walk to Remember, in which she plays Jaime Sullivan, a "mousy" high school student living in smalltown North Carolina. Though she wears the same baggy dresses and (literally) the same green cotton sweater to school everyday, though the cool kids taunt her mercilessly, and though her father (Peter Coyote) is the local uptight reverend, Jaime is extraordinarily serene, almost beatific. Moore carries this off only partly -- she's clearly not a mousy girl, but she does appear confident enough to hold up under the abuse. When the coolest of the cool kids, Landon Carter (Shane West, of tv's Once & Again), gets in some serious trouble, he's sent not to juvie hall but to the high school drama club, where he's miraculously assigned the lead, opposite superstar singer Mandy Moore... uh, I mean, superstar singer Jaime. For green sweater girl is transformed when she sings on stage -- in a word, she's dazzling.

So dazzling that Landon, who has already stated secretly to "like" her during their weeks of rehearsing together, is just stricken when he sees her play a nightclub siren, in a slinky but chaste powder blue gown. At the same time, the camera indiscreetly cuts from one audience member to another -- the drama teacher and Jaime's dad, as well as the Landon contingent -- his mom (Daryl Hannah), black friend Eric (Al Thompson), and former-but-still-pining girlfriend Belinda (Lauren German) -- all looking increasingly thrilled but also horrified by what's happening in front of them, namely, Landon falls desperately in love with Jaime, on stage.

Directed by Adam (The Wedding Planner Shankman, and based on Nicholas Sparks' "best-selling novel" (he also wrote the novel on which Costner's Message in a Bottle is based), A Walk to Remember is audaciously corny. Indeed, it revels in its corn. Though screenwriter Karen Janszen has displaced the story from the '50s to now, the film insists that the same values apply, across these 50 years. Jaime's charm and her awkwardness are both based in the spectacle of her decency, so profoundly eccentric nowadays that her peers can't help themselves but to be mean. From all outward appearances, Jaime is happy to cook meals for her dad, volunteer at the hospital, tutor younger kids after school, and save herself for marriage (you know, like Britney Spears). Until, of course, Landon pledges his troth. At this moment, everything changes.

And, at this moment, come the plot spoilers.

First, Jaime and Landon endure a series of several falling-in-love scenes: they look at the stars with her homemade telescope, slow dance, dine at a fine restaurant, kiss and cuddle, and bear up together under still more cool clique meanness at school. She defies her father, sneaking out one night to see her suddenly lovely boy. He gives up his old (apparently hiphop) habits: when Eric comes by for a visit, Landon rejects his choice of "Get Ur Freak On," in favor of a Jars of Clay tune. She asks, "Are you trying to seduce me?" He asks back, "Are you seducible?" The answer to both is, yes and no. He's so completely changed by his interactions with Jaime that he's fine with appreciating her beauty sincerely and asexually (aside from petting and puppyish gazing). And she's so moved by his "miraculous" make over that she's willing to go pet and gaze (going farther than she's ever even considered going with anyone else).

And then, Jaime drops the other shoe: she's terminally ill, in fact, she's dying in a few weeks. The movie has nowhere to go from here, and so slides off into a weepy, banal sunset. Jaime has a faint one day, and from then on, looks increasingly wan (at least she doesn't have to exchange her makeup-look for a no-makeup-look, since she's been made up throughout the film to look like she's not wearing makeup) and also steadfast, helping Landon and her dad to cope with their loss. Shades of Winona-Leelee-Ali McGraw-and-Bette Davis. (Come to think of it: when was the last time you saw a movie where the boy dies of a withering-but-strangely-glowifying illness to teach the girl an important life lesson?)

It's sad. Not that Jaime dies or that Landon cries, or even that the moral trappings of the film are so single-mindedly, so reductively, "conservative" (in the various meanings of the word). The tragedy is that A Walk to Remember is so unimaginative and dull. Mandy Moore deserves better, and, though the industry tends to work against talent and self-respect rather than with them, she may still find it.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.