'The Best of Me'
Yet another Nicholas Sparks adaptation is here to present yet another ludicrously idealized version of romance that exists only in soft rock ballads and cheesy paperbacks. ‘The Best of Me’ is kind of like a comic book movie in terms of its brazen disregard for reality, only without any of the fun or entertainment value that one might get from a bubblegum blockbuster.
Once again, author Nicholas Sparks provides a cornball romance filled with nauseating cheese for audiences too undemanding to care. It’s a love story split between two timelines. In the modern day, we’ve got Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden as former lovers drawn together when an old man in their past dies and leaves them an inheritance. In flashbacks, Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato play their even more nubile and sexy selves. He was a good boy born to a bad dad on the wrong side of the tracks, who ran away during his last year in high school and found a home with a grumpy old man with Christian values. She was a sweet and smart girl who fell for this somewhat-but-not-really bad boy’s frequently shirtless ways. Together they experienced unimaginably powerful love, the kind that can only be shown in montage because it would just be too damn emotional to see played out in real time.
Sadly, tragedy struck and he was forced to go to prison for only the purist reasons. She wanted to wait, but he wouldn’t let her. As that story plays out with the young couple, we see their older selves reconnect at the same time. That’s two cheesy love stories for the price of one, people! Break out your handkerchiefs and get ready to hate your Significant Other for not looking like a Barbie/Ken doll or having any other interest or motivation in life beyond loving you so hard it hurts. Or you could break out a vomit bucket. Your choice.
The plot might be ever-so-slightly different this time, but everything else that you either loved or hated about ‘The Notebook’, ‘A Walk to Remember’, ‘Dear John’, ‘Safe Haven’ or any of the other Nic Sparks joints remains the same. It’s another movie where people speak like Hallmark cards, make out in the rain, and just feel so much all the time even though they seem incapable of displaying emotions on their face. The Christian values are laid on thick, the plot twists are visible from miles away, the boys can’t keep their shirts on, the girls only wear conservative attire, and any attempt at symbolism is so heavy-handed that even a preschooler with no concept of symbolism would notice.
Slight departures from the rigid Sparks formula include actual on-screen sex, which is then swiftly punished by death because how dare you enjoy watching such a thing? This is about love and possibly Jesus, not dirty monkey sex! There are also criminals up to no good in Golden Boy’s life. Don’t worry, though. We never find out what sinful activity they’re up to or what troubled past made them that way. They just dress dirty and act mean, so we know they must be evil. Yep, there’s nothing complex or adult about the story to worry your little head about. It’s all simple, safe, divorced from reality, and gently sensual without daring to be sexy.
Director Michael Hoffman has occasionally slipped color and style into his movies like ‘Restless Natives’, ‘Soapdish’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Unfortunately, he brings none of that to the table here. Sparks’ voice is simply too dominating for any filmmaker to dare impose his own on top of it. Nope, there’s only one way to shoot a Nicholas Sparks movie, and that’s through the soft focus, autumn colors and small town settings of a laundry detergent commercial.
You might think that actors like Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden, who occasionally bring personality to their work, could rock the boat by actually acting. However, there’s also only one way to act in a Nicholas Sparks movie, and that’s in a daze as if you’ve taken a mild sedative.
Aside from momentary confusion, you could mix and match the reels from any three Nicholas Sparks movies together and you’d have the same basic emotional arc. For me, that style is boring, unrealistic, lifeless, repetitive and gag-inducingly corny. Yet I’ve felt that way about all of these movies and they keep making money. So even though I’d even dare to say that ‘The Best of Me’ is a bit worse than the usual Sparks drivel, those who liked the prior movies will probably eat this one up too and beg for more. Until the Nicholas Sparks fan base bores of his work, the rest of us will have to suffer.