The Best of Me

Posted by Joel Copling on October 18, 2014

"The Best of Me" is better than expected, though that's still not saying much. This is a romantic drama with the kind of cliches that run rampant throughout the genre and for which Nicholas Sparks is best known. And what do you know--Sparks is the one responsible for this particular film's source material. It has an equal sprinkling of the best and worst of his previous adaptations: a strength in developing characters we like who have complex histories with each other, matched bluntly and awkwardly to contrived situations that simply lead to more contrived situations. The biggest of them all, though, is waiting for us in nearly the very last scene, with the type of deliriously small chance that stretches and then breaks believability.

In 2014, Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) are estranged, he having just miraculously survived an oil-rig explosion and she living a bored life with a husband who barely seems to appreciate her. In 1992, each of them (played by Luke Bracey, who looks nothing like Marsden, and a lovely Liana Liberato) fell deeply in love with the other. In the present, they have reunited to claim the residence that a mutual parental figure, Tuck (Gerald McRaney), has willed to them both, rekindling a flame that has long been snuffed out. In the past, the event that will forever change their lives draws ever closer, and the core of their dissolution makes itself known.

The above makes "The Best of Me" sound far more unintentionally amusing than it actually is, though each story would be enough for a motion picture on its own merits (The 117-minute running time, which keeps going after it should have stopped 15 minutes ago, is the best evidence for this). Mashing them together like this only casts a spotlight on the combination's faults, dramatizing everything to far past any reasonable emotional destination. The actors do what they can to lift soggy material (Liberato in particular), and it works quite well until the convenience-driven final act has its way, and at that point, "The Best of Me" only achieves a shrug. It's a shame, because the foundation would have been enough to establish more believable events than the ones given to us.

Film Information

Michelle Monaghan (Amanda), James Marsden (Dawson), Luke Bracey (Young Dawson), Liana Liberato (Young Amanda), Gerald McRaney (Tuck), Caroline Goodall (Evelyn), Clarke Peters (Morgan Dupree), Sebastian Arcelus (Frank), Jon Tenney (Harvey Collier), Sean Bridges (Tommy Cole), Robert William Mello (Ted Cole), Hunter Burke (Abee), Robby Rasmussen (Bobby/Aaron), Caroline Hebert (Young April), Ian Nelson (Jared).

Directed by Michael Hoffman and written by J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.

Rated PG-13 (sexuality, violence, drug content, brief language).

117 minutes.

Released on October 17, 2014.