In Defense of… That Kid from “A Walk to Remember”
Many long years ago in the mists of time, my sister (then a naive, young junior high student) expressed a desire to watch a feature film from 2002 called “A Walk to Remember.” Now, the movie is utter poo-poo, but anyone with half a brain can tell you that this is far from Mandy Moore’s much more tolerable work in movies like “Saved,” and that the movie is paper-thin, pop-singer-starring dreck to make a quick buck and no doubt anger fans of the original book like some kind of romance novel Tom Bombadil. Rather, I’m going to defend one particular character from the film, a character so interesting and inspiring, yet so glossed over that I can’t even remember his name, or find any of his information on IMDB… and there’s no way I’m going to watch that movie again. So, for all intents and purposes, I’m going to call this young man “Tommy.”
Tommy is a good boy. I’ll say that first. If I remember correctly, he’s student council president or something along those lines, gets good grades, is involved in various extra-curriculars, and basically does what you’re supposed to do in high school: work hard and prepare yourself for the reality of adulthood. So of course it’s only natural that this movie paints Tommy as a supporting villain.
If you can’t guess the plot (I’ve already called it a romance movie, so you should be able to) the movie involves a pure, innocent WASP Princess (played by Moore) and a motorcycle-riding, stunt-attempting, scowling tough guy. Gee whiz, guess what happens. Now, when the inevitable “coming around” happens and Scowly McLeatherJacket starts to realize that maybe Many Moore could be the one to save him from a life of iniquity (which always happens in real life) he begins to try to spend some more time with her, something his bad boy image probably wouldn’t do if she didn’t have clear skin, a trained body, perfect hair, yadda yadda yadda. It’s all the same old dreck you’ve seen before, and done better. Even Travolta would admit that this plot was old when he did it in Grease. Cripes, Timothy Dalton probably rolled his eyes when he was playing Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, possibly the first example of “dark stranger steals pure maiden from well-meaning pouf.”
And speaking of well-meaning poufs…here comes Tommy. Much like his spiritual antecedent, Edgar, Tommy finds himself devoured by bland, unimaginitive movie conventions and used as fodder for the brooding anti-hero to bite through like a wad of Big League chew. Like I said, you’ve seen it all before, and better. However, I’m going to use Tommy as sort of a template here, and I’m basically going to stand up for poufs like myself throughout History. Poufs unite! It’s not like we have anything better to do on a Friday night, eh?
Tommy is a good boy. He cares about people around him, and for more than the fact that they’re Mandy Moore. He sees a pure-as-the-driven snow classmate being approached by the love child of Fonzie and Vin Diesel and you can almost see the words “Blimey, not again,” stamped across his forehead. Now, spolier alert, but Mandy Moore’s character happens to be suffering from a particularly nasty disease, “nasty” here meaning “terminal,” so put yourself in Tommy’s shoes. The nice girl in your class who is dying slowly and painfully of a debilitating disease is being approached by a guy who, for all intents and purposes, looks like he has nothing to show her but the back seat of his IROC-Z. What do you do, as a decent human being? You stand up for those who can’t. So Tommy does. He does what all the other Poufs and denizens of the “Friend Zone” (including myself) wished we could have done: he stands up to the tough guy. He actually tells him to back off, because he doesn’t want to see this sweet young woman get hurt.
Now, I ask you… how is this bad? Someone nobly tries to defend those who cannot defend themselves from a walking pile of stereotype, and he’s painted as a villain? Am I really supposed to identify with the idiot who, in the film’s opening sequence does something insanely stupid to be identified as “extreme” or some such bollocks? How on earth is the guy who wants to help the pretty young thing (while never thrusting himself upon her, mind you) suddenly one moustache and top hat short of tying her to the train tracks? Why is the good guy the bad guy, and the bad guy the good guy? You know what? I blame Emily Bronte.
And I don’t want to hear any of that “don’t judge a book by its cover” nonsense. If Tommy applied that to his everyday life, he’d be shanked by the first homeless thug he tried to give five bucks to. Sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason, and if you want to show that you can change, make some effort besides grunting out vaguely romantic things from under your pensive, handsome “oh-I-can-change-him” inducing brow. Tommy is not the enemy here, Tommy was doing the right thing, and for that he has more balls than almost any other pouf in any other high school I ever met. We wish we could have stood up to the squids like Shane West in that awful movie and finally said “Clean up your act or you don’t deserve her,” but we never do. We stand by, watching the pretty young things get defiled by said idiots, hoping that by being a good friend they’ll eventually come around, and then learning five years later that the pretty young thing has turned her car into an alcohol-fueled, flaming metal coffin. Tommy is just as unrealistic as every other character in the crap movie, but at least he was a decent human being and tried to do the right thing, which more than I can say for myself.
For almost the entire movie, I kept harassing my little sis by saying “What about Tommy?” at key romantic moments between Scowly and Pretty. I was being petulant, but in a way, I meant it, because Tommy is the real tragic hero of that story, not Little Miss Leukemia. So, in the interest of fairness, I’ll tell you what happened to Tommy, who sadly blinks out of the movie after fifteen minutes so we can get more Shane West pouty faces:
Tommy graduates at the top of his class, all honors, and gets into a fantastic school. He gets into a great job, makes lots of money, gets a nice house, and even a lovely wife and a few kids. His life is going great and, though he is occasionally plagued by the thought that he couldn’t save Mandy Moore’s character, he realizes that Shane West turned out to be all right, and he probably wouldn’t have tried so hard to win her heart had he not been challenged by him. At least it helps him sleep at night. Unfortunately, Tommy is still a noble and philanthropic sort, and has trouble coming to grips with the fact that the world, for all of his successes, is still horribly broken. Sometimes he has a little too much to drink, and sometimes he eyes the butcher knife with a longing to plunge it into his leg, but his wonderful wife saves his every time. In his later years, he begins to think that maybe, just maybe, the short, tragic romance Shane West’s character had with Mandy Moore’s was his punishment for not following the rules, and his lasting, meaningful and loving life with his wife is his final vindication for doing the right thing for years without any reward seemingly in sight. Happy ending. Eventually, Tommy wins, and by extension, every last one of us hopeless, yet hopeful, Poufs 🙂