Beliefnet
In Hollywood, parody is the sincerest form of flattery. But teen movies have sunk to such a low that recent attempts at parody--see (or rather, don't see) "Not Another Teen Movie!"-just end up wallowing around in the same unsightly muck. Even such a cute young actor as Shane West (from TV's "Once and Again"), who should be happy to use teen flicks as his personal ATM, has sworn them off. And last week he tried to convince a roomful of reporters that "A Walk to Remember," in which he stars with pop singer Mandy Moore, isn't a teen movie at all.

He's more than half right. Adapted from Nicholas Sparks's novel of the same name, "A Walk to Remember" operates by the conventions not of teen sleaze, but the romance novel: an unruly, black-eyed lover-here West's disgruntled high-school senior, Landon Carter-is tamed by a frail beauty who lives under the close watch of her forbidding father, the local pastor. Director Adam Shankman ("The Wedding Planner") keeps well within the lines. Not a shot in the movie hasn't been done before, including repeated cutaways to the tide running in coves around Wilmington, N.C., the setting for TV's "Dawson's Creek," which will be comfortingly familiar to its target audience.

But like West's character, the renegade-made-good Landon, the film makes its way steadily from convention to convention to achieve a modest respectability. It's helped by Moore, who, though dressed down in gingham with flat brown bangs, translates the spunk that has earned her two platinum albums and an MTV talk show by age 17 into a focused, if overly polite, performance. Moore swears she's dedicated to her singing, but if and when her pop freshness hits its expiration date, she has plenty of promise to explore on the big screen.

Though Moore's Jamie will be the box-office draw, the story belongs to Landon. Alienated from his rich father and attached only to his vintage Camaro, Landon hangs with the bad element in school, the clique that lounges menacingly at their lockers and requires daredevil initiation rites. When one of these pranks goes awry, the principal offers Landon the choice of expulsion or the lead in the school play, on the theory that the experience will shape him up. The plan works, though not the way the principal imagines. The fear of public humiliation drives Landon to seek the help of Jamie Sullivan, the minister's daughter, his co-star and in every way his opposite. They suffer mutual rebuffs, West scowls, and they fall in love. Her faith, both in God and in him, transforms Landon forever.
It's interesting to watch the filmmakers accommodate this explicitly religious storyline--and author Sparks's own Christian faith (see interview). Hollywood, which has been conducting a culture war with conservative Christianity for a decade now, prefers to keep its spirituality on the light side. Independent films, like Robert Duvall's "The Apostle," have become the only source of more searching treatments of religious subjects, while in major-studio productions men of the cloth too often end up serving a highly restricted set of functions: if they aren't props in a slapstick wedding scene, they are bigoted, backward or corrupt. Peter Coyote, who plays Jamie's stern but loving father, notes that he was attracted to the role because Reverend Sullivan is "not a snake-waving fanatic."



We get this message as soon as we enter Jamie's small, plain-white church: not only does Rev. Sullivan have the longest hair of any male in the movie, but his service features a hip-sounding gospel choir, with Moore growling a little in her solo for good measure. The reverend is not above chastising Landon from the pulpit, but overall the mood is stern but swinging.

In a movie as full of good values as this one, the preacher can afford to relax a little. Jamie draws her own moral boundaries and sticks to them, due as much to a strong sense of herself as her belief in God. Jamie never asks Landon to convert; she makes it a prerequisite of their love that he drop his tough guy act and be himself. Both of them lecture their parents on how to behave. And when disaster strikes, a surprise return to church is the answer.

All this makes "A Walk to Remember" a perfectly watchable two hours, even with your teenager sitting next to you. At the very least, you'll get a good sob out of it. (The designated radio hit from the soundtrack is Mandy Moore singing "Cry.") And you'll be reminded that what our young people want most is to be loved for who they are, by the people they want to love them.

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