This weekend, the latest Nicholas Sparks joint hits theaters. The Longest Ride is the story of the furious romance between a bull rider and an art enthusiast, united by their love of rustic settings, immaculate sunsets, and tasteful PG-13 humping. Sparks’ adaptations have long been punchlines, considered trite and melodramatic, but what we’re here to talk about today isn’t the relative quality or lack thereof offered by the nine films that have been adapted from his work over the past 16 years.
No, today we’re here to talk about how goddamned crazy these movies are. There’s a genuine camp appeal to be found in many of the Sparks adaptations, just because his films can and frequently do go to absurd lengths to place insurmountable odds between his star-crossed lovers. These range from amnesia to tragic violence to acts of nature and a cruel, vicious God who appears to hate these perfectly nice people who just want to live in the American South and almost kiss. So join us for a different kind of memorable walk, a walk through the most outlandish things Sparks adaptations have done for the sake of dramatic tension.
Also, spoilers ahead. We’re spoiling the hell out of these movies.
Message in a Bottle (1999)
Kevin Costner plays Garret, a poetic seaman in mourning for Catherine, his dead wife, in Message in a Bottle. Hope arrives, however, in a Chicago reporter who’s found one of the many love letters he tucks into bottles and casts into the ocean, where all ghosts reside. Deciding that his new love is strong enough to free him from mourning, he writes one last letter and sets sail (on a boat named after his dead wife) to cast it away. Unfortunately, a storm strikes. A wild one. And Garret spots a family of three sinking. Heroically, he sacrifices his life to save them. And what the fuck, dude.
DUDE, you could’ve just thrown it from the shore. Catherine doesn’t care. She’s dead. Or maybe she does. Maybe she cares too much. Maybe this is what she wanted all along, to lure Garret out to sea so he can (literally) drown in his mourning. Because that is seriously the best explanation for this ending: Garret was killed by the jealous ghost of his ex-wife. —Randall Colburn
A Walk to Remember (2002)
In Roger Ebert’s review of A Walk to Remember, he called the film “a small treasure.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I will say that I do not loathe A Walk to Remember as much as other films in Sparks’ oeuvre; in truth, I think it’s kind of sweet. Perhaps my initial liking of this film is because it was one of Sparks’ first outings with his still not-so-original narrative of young love in the face of parental disapproval and/or impending death (Walk is Sparks’ third novel and second film adaptation), a trusty template now as old and crusty as stale bread. And sure, this love story is so syrupy sweet that you might feel cavities forming as you watch it — it’s all very Dawson’s Creek, down to the small town in North Carolina setting — but unless you’re offended by one of the main characters being a devout Christian who is slightly annoying in her purity of heart, it’s not particularly dumb nor offensive. Landon and Jamie’s relationship develops nicely over time, and their romance, although hackneyed, is believable.
One section is a little weird, though. You see, Landon and his other cool, tough-guy friends have spent the first quarter of the movie teasing poor, mousy, pastor’s daughter Jamie because, um, she wears the same sweater every day? But then Jamie walks on stage during a school play with her hair down and curled, wearing a face full of makeup and a clingy dress, and whammo! Landon is in love. Not only does the Mandy Moore pop star moment feel out of place, but it also kind of sucks that it takes a curling iron, makeup, and décolletage for Landon to see Jaime in a whole new light. Plus, if you’re not keen on Moore’s breathy singing voice, or the idea that Landon would feel the urge to make out with Jamie immediately after watching her sing about how Jesus is her only hope, then you probably won’t like this scene, either. —Leah Pickett