Christian Movie Reviews - Family Friendly Entertainment

The Best of Me is Easily the Worst of Sparks

<i>The Best of Me</i> is Easily the Worst of Sparks

DVD Release Date: February 3, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: October 17, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language)
Genre: Drama/Romance
Run Time: 117 min.
Director: Michael Hoffman
Cast: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Gerald McRaney, Caroline Goodall, Clarke Peters, Jon Tenney, Sean Bridgers, Rob Mello

While no one has ever mistaken a Nicholas Sparks novel for, say, Proust, the bestselling author has carved out a comfortable niche with stories filled with longing, loss and broken people who experience a life-changing love before Sparks eventually lowers his sadistic axe.

Yes, anyone even remotely familiar with Sparks’ work already knows that happy endings aren't really his thing, and his latest book-to-screen effort The Best of Me is certainly no exception. But aside from what's easily the least plausible and laughably awful ending committed to film in recent memory, watching The Best of Me is also a glaring reminder of why The Notebook, which released back in 2004, has remained the gold standard of Nicholas Sparks weepies.

Despite all the soap opera hysterics and shameless set-ups intended to generate the maximum amount of waterworks, there was still enough that rang universally true about Noah and Allie's multi-generational love story that made The Notebook worth watching. Plus, it’s pretty difficult to resist the charms of a film with cinematography so lovingly crafted and lead actors who had chemistry in spades.

Interestingly enough, The Best of Me shares a few superficial commonalities with The Notebook in terms of plot, theme and characterization, but because of boring, by-the-numbers storytelling, less-than-inspiring scenery and far too many flat, one-dimensional characters, it's nothing but a poor knock-off of the original.

Even with an easy-on-the-eyes leads, James Marsden (Enchanted) and Michelle Monaghan (The Heartbreak Kid) giving it their best effort as Dawson and Amanda, former high school sweethearts who reconnect after 21 years, there's little about The Best of Me that doesn't make you want to roll your eyes in disbelief. For the record, this is coming from someone with a higher-than-normal tolerance for romantic schlock.

What makes The Best of Me easily the worst of Sparks is a series of questionable decisions. First off, shouldn't the younger versions of Dawson and Amanda share some continuity with their grown-up counterparts? While Luke Bracey (The November Man) and Liana Liberato (If I Stay) do a decent job as the young Dawson and Amanda, they're odd choices because they bear no actual physical resemblance to Marsden and Monaghan. Nose, eyes, mouth, mannerisms... there's nothing that connects them visually, and because of that, there's an immediate disconnect between the two storylines.

Another problem with The Best of Me is the embarrassingly cartoonish nature of the antagonists. No doubt, Dawson's abusive father is a formidable, fearsome presence, but here it's in a totally cheap, made-for-TV movie way. The conflict between father and son and the objections of Amanda's wealthy parents (another detail recycled from The Notebook) are such lazy storytelling devices. Rather than add layers and texture that help enhance the story's bottom line, their only function is to ensure that Dawson and Amanda will be nothing more than star-crossed lovers once they graduate from high school.

Incidentally, the whole star-crossed lovers motif winds up being a criminally overused visual metaphor. WE GET IT. Dawson and Amanda’s love was written in the stars. Or that's what Sparks keeps telling the audience, rather than showing it, anyway.

Considering the movie's endgame is reuniting these high school sweethearts, no matter the cost, it's also a rookie move to give Amanda's longtime husband no redeeming qualities. When someone is as vapid, rude and focused on making his regular tee time as poor Frank (Sebastian Arcelus, Netflix's popular House of Cards series), the writer is practically giving Amanda permission to cheat once she and Dawson inevitably reconnect.

No amount of soft light and love-you-forever declarations change the fact she's married to someone else, and when Dawson and Amanda do hook up, it's just icky seeing her wedding ring and being sold a false bill of goods that infidelity is okay as long as it's with your "true love." But maybe asking for more from a Nicholas Sparks movie is simply asking too much.

Truth is, if Sparks wants to remain the king of swoony, romantic escapism, it's time to up his game. Like Liam Neeson starring in yet another Taken movie, Sparks's work is also running out of creative mojo. Need proof? Rent The Best of Me.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Characters drink a couple of beers socially in a handful of scenes. There are also characters who abuse alcohol which leads to questionable, and sometimes, dangerous behavior. After the death of her daughter, Amanda admits she “drank too much” to mask her pain. References to drug use.
  • Language/Profanity: Several misuses of God and Jesus’s names. A single f-bomb, plus the occasional sh--, da--, he--.
  • Sex/Nudity: Back when they were in high school, Dawson and Amanda are shown having sex. No nudity, just brief flashes of bare skin on bare skin. One of Dawson’s best high school friends is having a baby with his high school girlfriend (they humorously pose for prom pictures with her pregnant belly in full view). When Dawson and Amanda reconnect 21 years later, they make love again (she’s married). No nudity, but the scene is a bit more explicit with movements, etc. In one scene, it’s clear that Amanda isn’t wearing a bra when she’s swimming in a wet t-shirt.
  • Violence: Dawson is regularly abused by his father and has the permanent physical scars to prove it. Once Dawson leaves home, his dad and band of misfit accomplices track him down and not only beat him but his caretaker, Tuck. A young man is shot and killed unintentionally when a man tries to wrestle away a gun from another man. Another man dies by gunfire. A man is nearly catapulted to his death when an oil rig explodes. Several men are shown on fire but we’re told they wind up recovering from their injuries because of a man's bravery in rescuing them.

Publication date: October 17, 2014