Much to the surprise of moviegoers, Hollywood’s newest romantic film, The Secret Drawer, is receiving a less than enthusiastic response from viewers and critics.
The movie, released just in time for Valentine’s Day, is an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’s bestselling novel, The Secret Drawer of Beautiful and Melancholy Love Letters.
Despite the dismal quality of past film adaptations of Sparks’s books, there was high hopes that Caroline Johnston’s directorial debut of The Secret Drawer would be different. Unfortunately, critical reviews are calling Johnston’s work generic and derivative at best.
The movie’s remarkable mediocrity is surprising in part because it was largely faithful to the details of Sparks’s creative tale.
For those who have not seen the film’s trailer (it plays on most cable stations three times an hour), The Secret Drawer begins during the Great Depression in Washington state. Here, we find the young and brilliant orphan, Howard Booner (Ryan Gosling).
After unexpectedly inheriting a fortune from his long-lost grandfather, 17-year-old Howard soars from rags to riches overnight. As fate would have it, Howard soon stumbles upon a secret drawer filled with beautiful and melancholy love letters in his late grandfather’s study. The boy is instantly infatuated with the mysterious female author of these letters and is heartbroken to realize they are dated February 2014. And so Howard’s quest to build a time machine to find his unlikely soul mate, Penelope Winkle (Reese Witherspoon), begins.
Critics were baffled as to how this marvelous concept failed to translate into the greatest romantic film of the decade. Tepid reviews have been emerging across Canada and America alike. So, with the critics coming up short, the Gauntlet hit the streets to hear how audience members were weighing in.
“I was really hoping to be swept off my feet,” one young woman admitted. “The trailer suggested that the movie would be epic and heart-wrenching. I mean, it even featured Coldplay’s new hit single. That’s why I can’t understand why I ended up feeling so hollow.”
A young man described the perplexing sense of deja-vu he experienced when watching the film.
“In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Man, this airport scene seems so familiar.’ And it was almost like I knew that Howard was going to catch Penelope right before she left to volunteer building outhouses in Africa. It was bizarre.”
Although Hollywood’s latest attempt to woo audiences was widely agreed to be pabulum, most viewers expressed optimism about the future of romantic movies. Perhaps they are wise to do so because, for all its blandness, The Secret Drawer is not without its merits.
For one thing, critics and audience members agreed that Gosling was hotter than ever in The Secret Drawer, particularly in his shirtless scene on the beach. At sunset. In the rain.
Similarly, the consensus is that Reese Witherspoon was airbrushed enough to still look pretty hot, despite her old age (by Hollywood standards).
What’s more, critics have noted that the movie successfully propagates all the fundamental stereotypes about gender roles, love and sex that are a hallmark of the genre.
Penelope, for example, is the perfect combination of beauty and feminine irrationality, while the outwardly masculine Howard turns out to be a sensitive and devoted lover beyond all logic.
Yes, for this point, Johnston should be commended because when you leave the theatre, with that close-up sunset kiss burned into your retinas and feeling dazed from the consumption of 2.5 hours of cinematic mush, you might just wonder if you were witness to something profound.
Like that pesky popcorn husk in your molars, you might just find that you cannot entirely rid yourself of the idea that true love, uncomplicated by real personalities and life problems, does exist.