Directed by: Michael Hoffman
Premise: Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks. A pair of high school sweethearts (James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan) reunite more than two decades after their love affair ended.
What Works: After having nearly every one of his novels turned into a motion picture, author Nicholas Sparks has become a brand name and in addition to a writing credit he’s now listed as a producer on his recent films. Sparks’ novels are very much like fast food; he’s identified a craving among consumers and mass produced products that cater to that taste. Like a McDonald’s hamburger, the allure of Nicholas Sparks’ stories is that they are all the same. Audiences who walk into one of these movies know what they are getting and The Best of Me delivers all of the typical Nicholas Sparks ingredients. It opens at sea near sunset, it features a romance between a blue collar guy and a white collar woman who inevitably have a make out session in the rain, and at some point one of the supporting characters is struck by a medical tragedy. For those craving the Nicholas Sparks formula, The Best of Me gives you exactly what you deserve.
What Doesn’t: None of the films adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ books would be considered great cinema and a lot of them are barely even good movies but The Best of Me may be the worst of the lot. What is most striking about this particular film is now generic it is. The very title is indicative of this problem. The Best of Me does not refer to anything in this movie; it isn’t a piece of dialogue, it doesn’t refer to a location or a plot point, nor does it distill a theme or idea from the film. It’s just the kind of off-the-shelf phrase found in a greeting card or on the cover of a paperback romance novel. That lazy and uninspired quality defines this movie. Not only does the film run through all of the clichés of the Nicholas Sparks milieu, but it actually does a few of them multiple times. This story consists of two parts: the main action, that of the couple reuniting after more than two decades, and the backstory of their teenage romance, which is doled out in flashbacks. That allows the filmmakers to essentially give the audience two Nicholas Sparks movies for the price of one and they do exactly that, reiterating the same scenarios in the same movie but failing—and not even really trying—to come up with creative ways to juxtapose them. The crosscutting does not pay off thematically but it’s also awkward because the two parts don’t fit together. It’s as if two different movies have been spliced together and it’s disruptive to the viewer. Part of the problem is the casting. James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan play the couple in middle age but Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato play the same characters as teenagers. The younger actors don’t look at all like the older versions of their characters, destroying the intended illusion of the movie. But even convincing casting couldn’t save a film in which the characters constantly behave so stupidly. One of the common features of the Nicholas Sparks’ universe is that all of his characters are mentally and emotionally frozen in adolescence. No one grows out of their teenage angst. In The Best of Me this is especially true of Michelle Monaghan’s character. She hasn’t seen her teenage sweetheart since he spurned her over twenty years ago and she has since moved on, married, and had children. But upon reuniting with her teenage love, she throws her life aside and cheats on her husband without a second thought. This emotional immaturity, especially on behalf of female characters, is a key part of the Nicholas Sparks formula as are idiotic conclusions. The finale of The Best of Me out-idiots every other film in the Sparks library with the dumbest resolution yet.
Bottom Line: The Nicholas Sparks playbook was exhausted a long time ago and there is nothing new in The Best of Me. Whatever captured the audience’s imagination ten years ago in The Notebook has been degraded through an endless rearrangement of clichés that now hedge on self-parody.
Episode: #518 (November 16, 2014)