The Best of Me offers the near-worst in its genre.
Take a close look at the picture above. Does Mr. Shirtless look anything like a high school version of James Marsden? If you answered ‘yes’, then this movie is absolutely the movie for you. If you answered ‘no’, then you’re completely normal and will understand what I say when I say that the part of young Dawson was completely miscast. This was the biggest failure of The Best of Me, but there were other failures as well, including a overly complicated third act. Based on the book by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), The Best of Me is obviously catering to the same audiences that have contributed a whopping ton of money to previous Sparks adaptations. But this movie fails as an inspiring story and fails to provide compelling characters. I haven’t read the book so I can’t say for sure whether or not it was the source material’s fault. But either way, its unpredictability and distractions ruin the chance for emotional connectivity.
I’m a fan of The Notebook and other films like it. Let me make that point clear before I’m accused of just being biased against this genre. I think there’s a lot of artistry and emotional manipulation (the good kind) involved in these tear-jerker romances, and one important aspect is how the filmmakers use the tools in their arsenal (cast, source material, music, DP, etc.) to capture the attention of a target audience. This utilization is how they differentiate from stupid sappy romances that no one sees. As for plot, there’s usually a primary roadblock getting in the way of the main characters’ blossoming romance (distance, family expectations, a tragic incident, etc), but in The Best of Me there are a few of them and they’re convoluted and jumbled up together in a ridiculously violent, bizarre, and distasteful third act.
I don’t want to take away from the talent on screen, though. James Marsden (X-Men, and wouldn’t you know it…The Notebook) is an underused dramatic actor, and though he’s not bad as Dawson in The Best of Me, I was more convinced of Cyclops’ unconditional love for Jean Grey in X-Men 2. Michelle Monaghan (M:i3, Source Code) is also not too bad as Amanda in The Best of Me, but the plot disrupts her performance, giving us a terrible husband we are forced to compare her actions to and constant cuts to the past, featuring not-as-talented young talents. Speaking of which, Luke Bracey (The November Man, a Point Break remake) is a rising star but was obviously put in here for his sexy looks. He doesn’t look at all like a young Marsden and it’s distracting throughout the entire film. You know who’s also really good looking? James Marsden! Find someone who looks like him! At least they found a pretty good young Amanda in Liana Liberato (If I Stay), who’s spunky attitude is charming to watch but also falls victim to a makeshift plot.
I wouldn’t be surprised if The Best of Me takes in a healthy box office return in its first weekend or two and then fizzles out quickly. Or maybe it won’t, I don’t know. But audiences, even the ones that line up for these Nicholas Sparks adaptations like it was the opening sale of the next-gen video game console, are smart enough to not be completed owned by casting choices and plot trickery. Fans have their expectations (sometimes too high) and The Best of Me does not meet them.
The Best of Me opens in theaters today, October 17th.