The Best of Me
2014, PG-13, 117 min. Directed by Michael Hoffman. Starring James Marsden, Michelle Monaghan, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Gerald McRaney, Jon Tenney, Sebastian Arcelus, Clarke Peters, Sean Bridgers.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 17, 2014
Star-crossed romance, take nine. In yet another film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel – following 2013’s Safe Haven and preceding two more planned for 2015 – The Best of Me certainly looks like its predecessors, checking off the usual Southern locale and fixations on terminal illness, hand-written letters, mean parents, and kissing in the rain. But The Best of Me is in fact the worst yet: a cheap knockoff of an already inferior product.
As with the still-best Sparks adaptation, 2004’s The Notebook, The Best of Me tracks true love in two timelines, first-meet and fully adult. As high school sweethearts in the early Nineties (cue Toad the Wet Sprocket and Spin Doctors, to absolutely no one’s entertainment), rich but kind Amanda (Liberato) and poor but noble Dawson (Bracey, a 25-year-old badly passing for 16) try to keep the wolves at bay, including her disapproving pop and his cartoon-evil dad. We know something will tear them apart, because as grownups they’ve become, respectively, a sweater-set mom with a high ponytail (Monaghan) and a lonely oil rig worker still pining for Amanda (Marsden). But it’s limp suspense, and the romance is no better, not with everybody acting so goddamned holy all the time.
Already hobbled by an overwrought story that turns positively Hallmark-Movie-preposterous in its third act, journeyman director Michael Hoffman (Soapdish, The Last Station) can’t conceive of a single memorable set-piece or rouse his actors into action. By the time Marsden’s character has very polite sex with the love of his life with his pants still on, I was done. If the filmmakers aren’t going to bother, why should we?