No one has every accused Nicholas Sparks of being subtle when it comes to layering on the emotional levels in his writing. That’s fine as long as the sentimentality stacking doesn’t become so heavy it becomes crushing.
“The Best of Me” suffers that fate.
That’s sad, because the film starts out with the same generational sweetness as his “The Notebook” that looked at the timeliness of true love. It’s the predictable — and slightly creepy — ending that leaves “The Best of Me” not quite the best of Sparks.
The film looks at a relationship from perspectives 21 years apart. Dawson (Luke Bracey) and Amanda (Liana Liberato) are a pair of Louisiana teens from opposite sides of the track who naturally fall in love.
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What sidetracks their relationship is Dawson’s abuse father and Amanda’s overprotective dad. Despite a caring hand provided by Dawson’s surrogate father (Gerald McRaney), the young love doesn’t survive.
Fast forward 21 years where Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) are reunited. It’s an awkward time because their separation was so bitter. But, under a clear Louisiana night sky, the pair remember all of the good that made them fall in love in the first place.
Any respectable Lifetime or Hallmark Channel movie would have ended the story there. But Sparks indulges in emotional overkill with the way he ties up this tale of pure love. The film’s already filled with child abuse, a young cancer patient, lost spouses, teen-age pregnancy and class battles. The finale is just one too many emotional mountains.
It might have worked had the last scenes not been so predictable. But there’s a point where you will go, “Oh no, he’s not going to do that,” and he does.
It’s a shame the ending is so bad. To that point, “The Best of Me” is a sweet movie for those in love or who have ever been in love. Liberato brings a beautiful energy to the role that makes it easy to see why anyone would love the character and Monaghan remains one of the most under-appreciated actors in film.
Marsden was born to star in romantic roles, and he’s never shown a more sensitive performance than in this film. The big problem with Bracey is that he looks 20 years older than Liberato. Their relationship never plays as real as it does when the older actors take over.
Director Michael Hoffman does a good job of letting the love story unfold slowly. When such tales are rushed, the characters will often look more like they have fallen in lust than in love. The quiet pacing of “The Best of Me” lets us get to know these characters — both the young an older — so when they deal with the emotional challenges of the heart, its easy to relate to what they are feeling.
That’s why the ending is so wrong. It’s jarring, out of place and trite. It makes watching “The Best of Me” feel like going on a wonderful Sunday afternoon drive only to crash the car on the way home.