The movie starts with John (Channing Tatum) lying on the ground in a camo uniform. He’s at war and has been shot. As his eyes close, his voiceover says, “When I got shot, the first thing I thought of was coins. I was minted in 1980 and belong to the US Army. Now I have two holes in me and am not in mint condition. Wanna know the last thing I thought of before I blacked out? You”.
The scene cuts to a group of four friends standing on a pier. One of the friends knocks Savannah’s (Amanda Seyfried) purse into the ocean. He obviously likes her so he promises to run down and get the purse. John sees her saying ‘My whole life is in that purse’ and he jumps off the pier and gets the purse. He meets the group at the edge of the water and returns the purse. Savannah invites him back to her beach house to have a beer. Her friend is obviously jealous and starts to pick on John while they have a beer. A little boy runs up to Savannah and hugs her. He’s obviously autistic. She tells John that she’s known Alan since he was born and his dad, Tim, is a close friend of the family. John tells Savannah he has to leave because it’s Sunday and his dad made lasagna.
On the way home Tim sees John walking and picks him up. He drops John off at his house and tells John very awkwardly “If you hurt Savannah I will…do something…bad to you. Like…to your legs or something. Break a bone in them. I had to say that, her dad would expect me too. Was it convincing?. The two laugh. John slips into the house quietly. He sees his dad sitting at his desk looking at coins, he notices John but keeps looking at the coins.
The next day John sees Savannah at the beach and they talk. He asks her out on a date and she accepts. The next night he borrows his dad’s car and takes Savannah to dinner at a pier restaurant. As he is walking in a guy tells him to get out of there. He says “Come on, it has been three years” and he says “Okay, but I don’t want any trouble in here”.
At dinner, Savannah asks John what that was about and he says “That? Nothing, he is an old buddy of mine”. When they finish dinner Savannah tells John she’s going to meet his dad that night. John is hesitant but takes her anyway. John’s dad is very quiet. He loves the coins so Savannah gets him to show her coins. He seems very happy and open and shows her his collection. John seems embarrassed.
The next day Savannah takes John to see what she does during the day that keeps her so busy. She’s been helping build a house for a needy family who lost everything in a storm. It starts to rain and the two are squeezed under a couple of boards to stay dry. They kiss and kiss…and kiss.
The next few days show Savannah and John spending every single day together laughing and kissing and holding hands. Savannah’s friend from the beginning is very jealous. John finds Savannah on the beach very sad. She tells John she has to leave the next day and he promises to write her every day and when he gets out of the army in a year, he will move to be with her while she’s at school. Savannah tells John she’ll be in school longer than expected because since spending time with his dad she wants to work with special-ed kids. He gets very offended for her implying that his dad is autistic and runs off. On the way, the guy from the beginning starts picking on him again and John hits him. A guy comes from behind and John elbows him, busting his nose. He turns to see Tim and feels bad. Savannah is mortified at what just happened and runs off.
John goes to see Savannah before she leaves for school but she isn’t home. He sees Tim and apologizes and Tim tells her to write her a letter and he promises to get it to her. He digs an old bill out of the trash and John writes a note to her. He goes home and eats lasagna with his dad (it’s Sunday) and Savannah pulls up. She apologizes to him, he apologizes to her and she goes in to eat lasagna because his dad made an extra pan in hopes Savannah would come. It’s a very touching scene. Savannah leaves for school and hands John a letter as she’s driving away. She starts to cry.
John gets deployed to Africa. He and Savannah write each other every day. We hear that the troops will have a weekend to go to Paris but John opts to go to the states. The guys poke fun at him because they say after the long flight he’ll have about 15 hours at home but he says it’s worth it. While waiting to go home, we see a crowd gathered and learn that 9/11 has just occurred. John’s troop all stands and demands to re-enlist even though they only have a few weeks left in the army. John doesn’t want to re-enlist but his captain says if the majority wants to, they all will because they’re a team. When he arrives home Savannah is there to meet him. The two go to pick up John’s dad and take him to a party that her parents are throwing for John’s arrival. While they’re in the car, his dad starts to freak out and demand to be taken home. He’s crying and just very uncomfortable. They take him home. A man stops John at the party to thank him for what he’s doing for our country. Savannah overhears this and asks John if he’s still coming out of the Army. He tells her he’s going to re-enlist. When she drops him off at the airport he says “This isn’t goodbye – just a see ya later. Nothing changes, right?” and she says “See ya later” but you can tell she’s hesitant. Savannah goes to see John’s dad and asks about his favorite coin. He shows her a ‘mule’ coin, a mistake. The head is a nickel but the tail is a penny. Savannah asks John about the coin and he writes her to tell her the story.
As a little boy, John was given the penny and when his mom left it became a hobby for him and his dad to find a mule. Then John grew up and stopped spending time with his dad, he became reckless and started fights with people. His dad kept collecting coins as a way to remember John’s childhood when they were happy. Then John joined the army.
The letters keep coming until one day they stop. John doesn’t get a letter for two weeks and then finally gets one. Savannah apologizes to him and tells him she’s engaged to be married. John burns all of the letters she has sent since then and then takes off with his troop to investigate something. John is shot and the scene from the beginning starts over. John is told he can go home but demands to stay. A few weeks later a man comes and tells him he’s going home and takes his hat off, it’s John’s father.
John goes home and learns his dad had a stroke. He is sitting beside his dad who can hardly move and he reads him a letter, the letter from the beginning. The last thing John thought of before he blacked out was his daddy. John’s dad passes away and he goes to see Savannah. She has taken over her parent’s horse ranch. As they’re having coffee in her house he sees a picture of her and her husband…it’s Tim.
John is shocked and she says that Tim has cancer and is about to die. They go to see him in the hospital. Alan is about 15 and asks his new mom for a cake. She takes him to get it and Tim apologizes to John. He says it ‘just happened’ and tells him that she still loves him. Tim says after everything that she never looks at him the way she used to look at John and it’s written on her face. Savannah tells John they’re out of money and her dream is just to have Tim at home for a while before he dies. She tells him how unhappy she is without him and he tells her he needs to leave. She says “See ya later” and he won’t say it back. She cries and begs him to say it back but he says “Goodbye Savannah”.
John takes his dad’s coin collection and sells it but keeps one coin, the first mule they found.
John gets one last letter from Savannah telling him that they received an anonymous donation, which allowed Tim to be at home for the last two months of his life, and now he has passed away. John smiles because it was him who gave her the money to allow for it to happen.
We see Savannah sitting in a coffee shop and John walking his bike down the street. He chains it to a parking meter and catches a glimpse of Savannah in the coffee shop. She smiles, he smiles and he walks inside to see her, he hugs her and the movie ends.