Ellen Lewis

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, “The Best of Me”? Nah.

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Almost every year, like clockwork, someone releases melodramatic romance based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, usually involving photogenic white people who just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot coming back home to an overwhelmingly white part of the rural south, falling in love all over again, and a girl with tears streaming down her cheeks saying something like “How can I fall back in love with you when I never stopped?” The poster usually has the couple about to kiss, preferably in the rain.

If those are the things you look for in a movie, The Best of Me is sure to deliver.
Look, they even have that poster for it.

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But if you’re already not very into these kinds of movies, or maybe if you are, this film can be very frustrating. The attempt to balance the plot between when the film’s central couple Dawson and Amanda first meet and their reunion 20 years later is surprisingly difficult for the writers, who seem more interested in seeing how many over-the-top yet totally expected plot twists they can throw in without resolving than fleshing out the characters of the two lovers or developing their relationship.

Dawson (James Marsden/Luke Bracey) works on an oil rig or something. He’s very smart. We know this because every single character in the movie refers to him as “a smart man” and we see him carrying a mass paperback copy of a Stephen Hawking book at some point. Amanda (Michelle Monaghan/Liana Liberato) is wealthy and pretty, but her husband is distant. The two were high school sweethearts, but because of a ~Big Crazy Misunderstanding~, the two haven’t seen each other in twenty years. The rest of the film switches back and forth between when the couple first started dating in the 90’s (our only indicator being a Spin Doctors song playing in the background of a scene) and their present-day reunion.

We never really get to know Dawson and Amanda as characters, except for the facts that they’re (supposedly) madly in love with each other and that their lives aren’t what they wanted it to be when they were both 17. Instead, we get tons of random dramatic, traumatic events thrown in at random that never completely get resolved. Apparently present-day Amanda has a healthy 18-year-old son who randomly has life-threatening heart problems, but we don’t know about that because she’s off gallivanting with James Marsden instead of taking care of him. And Dawson left home when he was in high school, because his father was abusive and involved in something vaguely illegal that he wanted Dawson to become part of. They never state what kind of business Dawson’s father is in, but judging by the skull tattoos and leather vests his entire family wears, it’s definitely super edgy and dangerous (while watching the movie I liked to pretend that they were in a really shitty Lynard Skynard cover band and they were harassing him to come to their gigs). Someone accidentally kills one of their best friends. Someone else’s friend gets pregnant and her son grows up to get involved with the Lynard Skynard guys. There was so much unnecessary melodrama thrown in to distract from the loosly-formed love story that it almost felt like an episode of Degrassi. I half-expected Drake to roll on past in his wheelchair at some point. If they stuck to one or two pet dramatic themes (maybe Dawson’s abusive relationship with his father, since that would add some actual emotional depth to the movie), we would have gotten to know the characters more, and maybe they could’ve done a decent job tying up all of these loose threads once the movie ended. The writing was just so poorly executed, especially since the story is pretty similar in structure to other generic Nicholas Sparks movies but with more gritty details thrown in to make it look “edgy” or something.

However, I will say that I’m interested to see what this movie will do for Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato’s careers. Liberato especially seemed like she was trying to add something extra to her fairly one-dimensional character and bring something interesting to the role. I could see the two young actors’ roles in this movie paving the way for better ones in the future and either of them becoming household names at some point, whether through recognition by tween fans or taking on more diverse roles.

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