It feels like only yesterday that I, a 15-year-old, watched and sobbed throughout the 102-minute running time of A Walk to Remember. The Nicholas Sparks adaptation was one of only two movies in my personal history that caused me to legitimately weep (the other being Marley & Me), and I've always fondly remembered the love story of Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore) and Landon Carter (Shane West) as one of the earliest recorded accounts of #relationshipgoals.
With the film's 15-year anniversary looming, I rewatched what I previously believed to be Adam Shankman’s romantic masterpiece and was shocked at the result: While I didn’t open the box tissues I strategically placed on my coffee table, I did find myself falling for the saccharine, unrealistic love story all over again.
Our story begins with Landon, a stereotypical brooding bad boy, and his crew running from the police after seriously injuring another student in a prank gone wrong. Do high school thugs really force kids to jump off water tower in the middle of the night? As someone whose wildest high school rebellions maxed out at underage drinking in a friend’s basement, this alarmed me. Landon, whose conscience holds him back for a few extra seconds as he tries to get to the injured boy (although it’s unclear what exactly his plan was even if he did reach him), is ultimately caught by police. He doesn’t get in any serious legal trouble, but the head of his school offers him expulsion or the option to remain in school on the condition that he will atone for his sins through participating in the school play. Act in the school play or end your education: a decision only an angry young man in a coming-of-age romance might struggle with.
As we know, Landon chooses to stay because rehearsal is where he encounters Jamie, a girl he’s known since childhood but has essentially ignored because, as the reverend’s daughter in a coming-of-age romance, she is obviously excessively modest in dress and appears to only own one lumpy green sweater. (But seriously, has anyone looked as radiant sans makeup as a young Mandy Moore?)
Naturally, Landon puts little to no effort into his role and struggles with his lines. Ultimately, Jamie agrees to help him practice on one condition: "You have to promise not to fall in love with me," she says. I had completely forgotten about this line, but I immediately remembered thinking that Jamie was so cool for saying that back in the day. How confident I wished to have been as a ninth grader. But now, the line struck me as uncomfortable and a huge departure from the meek Jamie we have come to know. A little full of ourselves aren't we, J? Landon, thankfully, responds as I imagine any guy might reply to the creepy girl with an inflated ego: "That's not a problem." Sick burn, Landon.
To the chagrin to Jamie's reverend dad (Peter Coyote), they begin to practice regularly at her home and, you guessed it, become friends. Jamie opens up to him about her bucket list, which includes things like getting a tattoo (classic reverend's daughter behavior, amirite?) and being in two places at once.
Things seem to be going well–but then Jamie makes the grave error of approaching Landon in school one day to ask if they were still on for rehearsal later. "In your dreams," he fires back to the satisfaction of his super cool friends. Brutal. Later, Landon does, in fact, show up at her house to practice that afternoon. But Jamie, secret firecracker, slams the door in his face.
Finally, it's play day! And Jamie, who's not only a sneaky spark plug, also has the voice of an angel and blows the audience away with her heavenly vocals. Landon goes full YOLO and lands a smooch on her unexpectedly during the closing scene. This displeases Jamie, much to the confusion of everyone. I mean, what do you want, Jamie?! What about that whole coy promise-you-won't-fall-in-love-with-me line? She now stands mortified in front of her peers and retaliates by avoiding Landon in the coming days at school. Naturally.
It's truly only fitting that yet another prank would be the catalyst to the start of their relationship. Only this time, Landon lashes out on his friends who embarrass Jamie. This is actually a lesson in doing what's right–even if it means you can't be friends with people who haze others by forcing them to leap off abandoned structures in the middle of the night. And so, it turns out, flowers and jewelry aren't the way to a girl's heart. Punching your former best friend in the face, though, just might work. Landon and Jamie's relationship buds. Swoon.
The two work their way through Jamie's bucket list. Landon takes her to the state line so she can stand in two places at once and she makes sultry eyes at him while she gets her first tattoo. During this montage, Landon also tells Jamie he wants to kiss her, to which she replies, "I might be bad at it" and all of the eyes in the world collectively roll. After a few more lovey scenes, Landon's mother (OMG, it's Daryl Hannah!) grows nervous. This is North Carolina, after all, and bad boys like Landon don't belong with the reverend's daughter. "Be careful, she is the preacher's daughter," Daryl Hannah warns. "It's not like that with Jamie," Landon responds. That said, the movie does a wonderful job at fulfilling its PG rating by never showing a physical relationship between Landon and Jamie, but heavily alluding to it in a way you only understand if you rewatch it ten years later.
Finally, we arrived at the moment of reckoning, the moment I thought for sure I would lose it like I did so many years before.
Jamie: "I'm sick."
Landon: "I'll take you home."
Jamie: "No, Landon. I'm sick. I have Leukemia."
Landon: "No. You're 18. You're perfect."
Jamie: "No. I found out two years ago and I've stopped responding to treatments."
I'm not completely void of emotion. I'll be honest, this scene got me. Landon's reaction is true to how a high school senior might respond to the love of his life telling him she's terminally ill. But I didn't cry. Why? Because about two sentences later, Jamie runs off again. Where are these kids always running in the middle of the night? Didn't anyone have a driver's license?
To sum up what is meant to be the saddest portion of the film, Landon and Jamie make up. As she grows sicker, he works tirelessly to continue checking things off her bucket list, including building a telescope by hand in time for her to see a rare comet. Jamie is sent to the hospital, where she gives Landon a book of her deceased mother's favorite quotes. "Don't worry it's not a Bible," she assures him. The number one thing on Jamie's bucket list was to marry in the church her parents were married in. So, what does the high school senior and former bad boy do? He proposes. And, even now as an adult, I can say that it's a beautiful moment. But, like, why didn't the parents intervene? In the world of Nicholas Sparks, marriage works all the time and is always a good decision. Something tells me they didn't think this through.
Fifteen years after its theatrical debut, I still think A Walk to Remember is a great movie. This is my truth. Perhaps my inability to shed a tear only proves that with age comes wisdom and many reality checks, but it can also bring a bit of bitterness at the hands of heartbreak. Maybe I'm just mad that my high school sweetheart never brought me to two places at once. But whatever the reason, despite a lack of emotional catharsis, I can certainly appreciate the movie in all of its Nicholas Sparks mushy glory. Can't say the same for Dear John or The Lucky One, though.