The Best of Me

Another year, another Nicholas Sparks adaptation

Also opening this week:

• Dracula Untold ★½

The Best of Me

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Directed by Michael Hoffman. Starring Michelle Monaghan, Liana Liberato, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Schuyler Fisk, Gerald McRaney, Ian Nelson, Jon Tenney, Caroline Goodall. Written by Will Fetters, Michael Hoffman, J. Mills Goodloe, from the novel by Nicholas Sparks.

Here’s another genre film that completely implodes in the final act: The Best of Me rambles along just fine most of the way – hitting romance movie cliché after romance movie cliché, but in appealing fashion – but by the end it seems to come to the self-realization that it is, in fact, a Nicholas Sparks movie, and it must go nuts.

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After the utter insanity that was the final twist of Safe Haven, I didn’t think Sparks could possibly top himself; he doesn’t (how could anything top that film’s Sixth Sense-like reveal?), but the filmmakers handle the idiotic resolution here with such unblinking sincerity that we can’t help but laugh at what we’re seeing onscreen. Then, to top it off, we’re given a Psycho-like epilogue in which they explain in excruciating detail what we already know. 

Things start off (relatively) OK. Oil rig worker Dawson Cole (James Marsden) is blown off his platform during an explosion, and somehow survives a four-hour float in the sea without succumbing to hypothermia (“it’s a miracle,” the doctors tell him). At that very same moment, wife and mother Amanda Collier (Michelle Monaghan) looks longingly up at the stars. Uh-huh. 

Just when you think the Louisiana character names can’t get any better, both Dawson and Amanda get a death notice for Tuck Hostetler (played by Gerard McRaney in flashbacks), an old mutual friend from their hometown. When the duo reconnect after 20 years apart, we learn they must have a… complicated history. 

During flashbacks that take up the majority of the film, we’re introduced to the younger versions of Dawson and Amada (now played by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato). It must be noted that Bracey and Liberato look absolutely nothing like Marsden and Monoghan, but the major reconstructive surgery these characters must have undergone to become their older selves is the least of the film’s plausibility concerns. 

Their story is ripped right out the romance movie playbook. Poor boy meets rich girl. They fall madly in love. Boy struggles with decision to do what’s best for girl. Girl’s father (Jon Tenney) even tries to bribe boy to stay away from his daughter. I saw this exact same movie – right down to many of the small details – a few months ago during Endless Love

The Best of Me, mind you, is significantly better than that film. For most of the way, at least. While it checks off cliché after cliché, it does so with a heartfelt sincerity that succeeds in getting us to care about these people; you might just shed a tear while you’re rolling your eyes. The performances are fine (Marsden and Monoghan, in particular, have some real chemistry together), the cinematography (by Oliver Stapleton) beautifully captures the Down South locales, and Michael Hoffman’s direction keeps things moving along at a reasonable pace, though the film winds up at a too-long 117 minutes. 

But that sincerity ultimately becomes a curse: we wait the whole movie to find out what went wrong between Dawson and Amanda, and that reveal proves to be… cornball hokum of the highest magnitude. Silly, silly, stuff. But that’s not enough. No, then the film goes bonkers, Safe Haven-style, to deliver a deus ex machine finale that comes out of nowhere and shows a complete lack of respect for its audience. It’s just so… dumb. 

But the filmmakers don’t seem to realize this. They continue to handle Sparks’ story with an undeserved care after it has gone off the deep end, and the movie’s final scenes are drowned out by laughter from the audience. 

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