Where to start? There’s so much wrong with The Best of Me that it’s difficult to determine what to discuss first. Should it be the horribly miscast lead role, the second half of the movie that pushes the limits of credibility and ventures into the world of ludicrousness, or the manipulative manner in which the couples are thrust together and torn apart? Granted, we are talking about a Nicholas Sparks adaptation so you can expect utter nonsense when it comes to relationships. But the film versions of The Notebook and A Walk to Remember handled these situations well, while recent adaptations of Sparks’ romance novels didn’t make the jump to the screen nearly as successfully. The declining level of quality has bottomed out with the worst of the Nicholas Sparks book-inspired lot: The Best of Me.
You can forgive sappy love stories in written form more easily than awkward, ill-conceived love stories in films because the dialogue and relationships on the screen are more in your face and immediate. Reading excessively sentimental sentences just doesn’t have the same impact as hearing them said out loud, earnestly, which explains why Sparks’ books continue to be bestsellers. The dialogue in this film adaptation is absurd and painful to take in. There’s barely a scene in this PG-13 film that rings true, and at times it’s tough not to pity the poor actors (in particular Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden) who you have to believe went into the film knowing exactly what they were in for yet still hoping for the chance to find a way to rise above the material.
It’s not even worth trying to explain what the film’s about other than to say a poor boy falls for a wealthy girl, they break up because of a tragic event, and reunite 20 some odd years later after the death of a mutual friend. The whys, whats, hows, and wheres of it all are unimportant; the only thing you need to know is that it’s all meant to make you cry like a baby. Which, unfortunately, there were actually people in the audience at the preview screening doing. Don’t fall for this nonsense, people! Don’t be sheep!
And before you sneer at the computer screen and call me a cynical critic, please know that I love romantic movies, even sappy ones. Even ones that feature star-crossed teenagers and ones about second chances and the discovery of love late in life. But what the good, truly moving, heartwarming – or heart-wrenching – romances have in common is solid writing, a love story that’s genuine, and stellar acting. None of those attributes describe the horrendous mess that is The Best of Me.
Whoever came up with the idea of casting Luke Bracey as a young James Marsden needs to have their eyes examined. In no way does Bracey resemble Marsden and it’s so jarring to see this non-linear story switch back and forth between Bracey, who looks 30+ and is playing 17 or 18, and 41 year old Marsden. It’s bizarre to see Bracey with light-colored hair transform into the dark brown haired Marsden, but it’s not just that obvious difference in physical appearance that jolts you out of the film. It’s also that there’s nothing similar in their facial structure or even in the way they carry themselves that would lead anyone to believe one is the younger version of the other. And given the fact Bracey at 25 looks older than his age and his on screen love interest, 19 year old Liana Liberato, looks 15 or 16, the scene in which she loses her virginity is just plain creepy…like old man in a trench coat hiding in the shadows creepy.
The Best of Me is among the worst of 2014’s theatrical releases which is saying a lot as this hasn’t exactly been an outstanding year in cinemas (at least through mid-October). Don’t fall for this fake romantic tale and unless you want to break up with your partner, do not suggest this as a date night movie.
The Best of Me is rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language