Have you ever had the sensation where you weren’t sure whether to be emotionally moved or whether to vomit? Well, I do now after watching The Best of Me.
After surviving an oil rig disaster, Dawson (James Marsden) gets a call to say that an old friend of his has died and he needs to travel back to his hometown to help sort things out. When he arrives he discovers he’s not the only one who got a call, as so did Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), a woman who has a history with Dawson and isn’t initially pleased to see him.
As well as showing us their reunion, the film also flashes back to their youth (played by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato), when Dawson was trapped in an abusive home but gets a chance at redemption thanks to both his romance with Amanda and also the protection of the older Tuck (Gerald McRaney), who becomes a new father figure. However circumstances threaten to tear them all apart – although at their reunion 20-years-later, Dawson hopes that fate has a reason to bring them back together.
Anyone whose seen other adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels (The Notebook, Dear John, The Lucky One, Safe Haven), will know pretty much what to expect from The Best Of Me. It sticks to the formula from being set in a sun-dappled, romantic version of middle-America to being centred around an impossible, eternal romance.
Although it is a little cheesy for much of its running time, most of it is surprisingly entertaining, keeping you hooked in thanks to Marsden and Monaghan having a real spark, as well as director Michael Hoffman holding the characters and story above too much overt sentimentality.
However it certainly has its problems, not least that – like most Nicholas Sparks stories – everyone around the central couple is pretty much a cardboard cut-out. That’s particularly true of Dawson’s father, who’s so much a snarling villain he barely seems like a real person. Then there’s the ending – which is when we get to ‘vomit-or-cry’ territory. In some respects it’s very moving, but it’s also almost painfully contrived and emotionally manipulative, particularly as the more nauseating aspects come out of nowhere. The film tries to deal make this all seem acceptable thanks to a lot of talk about fate, but it never really sells that – its wants us to buy into what is essentially magical realism, but chucks it in so late that it’ll have an awful lot of eyes rolling.
That said, if you’re a sucker for romance and sentimentality, the last 20 minutes of the movie ladles it on in spades, and I have no doubt that a lot of people will be weeping buckets at the overload of schmaltz. It should be an unequivocally abysmal conclusion, but thanks the actors and some decent work beforehand, the movie overall just about pulls through.
Oh, and one other thing, you’ll have to overlook the fact that Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato looking nothing like James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan, even though they’re supposed to be the same characters at different ages. The acting is fine, but you’d have thought they’d be able to find people who look a little more like one another.
Overall Verdict: It’s a Nicholas Sparks movie, and to be honest, I don’t need to say much more, as it’s very similar to all the rest. Perhaps if it could have handled the ridiculous melodrama and contrivance of the ending better, this could have been a real knockout romance, but as it doesn’t, it’s just ok.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac