UK Release Date: 15th October 2014
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Michael Hoffman
Writer: J Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters
Starring: James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Gerald McRaney, Sean Bridgers
Synopsis: After 20 years apart, two former lovers meet to commemorate a mutual friend and find old feelings coming to the surface.
At this point, you’ve decided whether you like film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels – either The Notebook reduces you to tears every time, or it’s an overlong chore of a movie. Every Sparks story is the same collection of clichés and tropes, but The Best of Me brings them together to produce something genuinely charming.
Dawson (James Marsden) returns to his small town home for the funeral of his good friend Tuck (Gerald McRaney). There, he meets old flame Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) and, in a series of flashbacks, we learn how the couple got together as youngsters (Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato) before Dawson’s psychotic father (Sean Bridgers) got in the way.
It’s certainly true that all of the standard Nicholas Sparks tropes and conventions are present in The Best of Me. Everyone is implausibly attractive, the male lead is about as macho as Chuck Norris driving a Ferrari into a supernova and every scene is captured in the sun-baked hue of Sparks’ perpetual summer.
| "A lot of things have changed since I last saw you."
But unlike the majority of the Sparks output, The Best of Me contains a handful of impressive performances. Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato have real, crackling chemistry, which makes their passionate relationship entirely believable. Unfortunately, this passion doesn’t carry over to their older counterparts, who completely fail to gel.
There’s real charm lurking in The Best of Me. At first, the film feels like very typical romance, piling cliché on top of cliché and sugar on top of schmaltz. However, there’s a nugget of indefinable sweetness at the heart of the movie that makes it increasingly endearing as the film goes on.
This charm helps the film get by as far as its third act. As is customary for these kind of films, The Best of Me goes full-tilt mental in its final 20 minutes. There’s a tonne of meaningless contrivance and plot twists that stretch plausibility far beyond its breaking point.
| "You don’t know how to flirt, do you?"
There’s something very uneven about The Best of Me. For every moment of guilty pleasure fun and good-natured charm, there’s an unnecessarily nasty plot turn or an entire scene of saccharine nonsense. It’s a film that could’ve done with a little more subtlety and a lot more of a sense of fun.
Pop or Poop?
Nicholas Sparks fans will find plenty to love in The Best of Me, which is certainly one of the better film adaptations of the author’s work.
The younger cast do tremendously well at portraying a believable couple, but much of their work is undone by the bland performances of Marsden and Monaghan as their adult counterparts.
A silly third act mars the film’s good work, but there’s definitely something worth watching at the heart of this film. There won’t be many dry eyes in the house.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.