It’s a cliché to say that acting is prostitution, though both are asked to mimic love for pay. Still, for both, it’s rare to believe it—even if just for 90 minutes. Nicholas Sparks, the John Grisham of romance novelists who books seem to be optioned before they leave Microsoft Word, has had great luck getting Hollywood to cast leads who sizzle. Chemistry—not plot—made The Notebook a guilty modern classic. And director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) has graced him with Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, two very pretty twentysomethings who enter this movie from opposite directions, connect like magnets and spin out of control. Seyfried plays a South Carolina undergrad who’s just nearly too perfect. The third time they meet, Tatum—a laconic Army Special Ops man—calls the charming, teetotalling shampoo commercial out for having no faults. Tatum doesn’t seem like he’s acting. The first few scenes he’s a strong and silent statue—clearly Seyfried sees something in him that we don’t. But what makes Dear John unusual is that we do learn to understand him when we meet his dad (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins) who Seyfried quickly pegs as mildly autistic. Dear John’s first half works because the characters’ lives feel rich and full: these aren’t two rom com workaholic Manhattanites. And under the golden glow of their first two weeks together, we see Tatum open up and Seyfried deepen. After love, however, is when things get tricky. Set in the spring of 2001, this is a period piece from our new past. When the Twin Towers fall, Tatum feels pressure to reenlist. After his first leave, Hallström fumbles the our sense of time, making a year and a half feel like months and making the characters’ painful decisions feel rushed and arbitrary. When movie mechanics wedge into their romance, we check out. But there’s enough love in this love story to make us feel for a son and his father, and Tatum’s attempts to connect with his dad—so disconnected from everyone—are heartbreaking.