Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Best of Me: Movie Review

The worst of Nicholas Sparks.
Ten years ago, Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook (2004) was released. Its long simmering success has made “the Nicholas Sparks romantic drama” its own brand, helped launch the careers of Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, and it’s a frequent punch-line in popular movies and shows. It also starred James Marsden in a small role as the man McAdams’ was supposed to marry. This year’s The Best of Me owes a lot to its predecessor, and not just its leading man. 2014

Directed by: Michael Hoffman

Screenplay by: J. Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks

Starring: James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Michelle Monaghan and Liana Liberato

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan. Courtesy of eOne Films.
Dawson (James Marsden) is a blue-collar man, working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He’s a man with little privilege but lots of honour. Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) is a suburban house-wife, well-to-do but not has happy as she would like. The introduction to these characters was really frustrating. Dawson was a good guy – one who would run into the flames of the exploding rig, easily sling a guy twice his size over his shoulder, carry another man and save multiple lives while almost killing himself. Can you say hero? Oh, and Amanda was sad just because she could sense that she should be sad. Sparks’ characters are way more one-dimensional than they used to be. He must think that audiences wouldn’t like anything more complex, and he has underestimated us once again.

Amanda and Dawson are re-connected by the death of an old friend who had taken them in when they were star-crossed teen lovers. Not Romeo and Juliet, but Noah and Allie. Young Amanda and Dawson (played by Liana Liberato and Luke Bracey) met when they were teenagers. He was the smart but poor kid, born into the wrong family of abusive drug dealers; she was the rich and pretty girl destined for success as long as somebody like Dawson didn’t get in her way.

Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato.
Courtesy of eOne Films.
The reasons why Amanda and Dawson’s love affair is doomed have less to do with her parents but a twist in the movie that gets extremely dark, dramatic and very unpleasant. And then it keeps getting worse from there. The filmmakers were probably trying to incorporate twists that would keep the film from being too predictable, but there’s a point when that becomes too much. People watch Nicholas Sparks romantic dramas because they’re romantic, not because they might offer something new. A few early scenes of young Amanda and Dawson falling in love were romantic, but the rest of the movie was not. The Notebook may have had an unhappy ending, but Sparks has reached new lows with this one.

With each new year comes a new Sparks-based romantic drama, and I always look forward to what gorgeous location on the North Carolina coast that he’s going to show off this time, but this movie was set in Louisiana and the camera spent more time on the pretty people than on their surroundings. Most conversations revolve around how hot or pretty the girls are, and that definitely doesn’t help in making the dialogue sound any less stilted. The girls are pretty, but Liana Liberato actually helped make the young Amanda shine. She added a comedic rhythm to her character that kept her scenes from dragging and given her propensity to bring such disparate characters to life so far in her early career, she is a formidable movie star and actress in the making.

The Best of Me did feature some of the beautiful cinematography that viewers have come to expect from a Nicholas Sparks' romantic drama. In particular, a scene of swimming at night where the reflection of the water dances off the covered dock and the headlights of an approaching car cast a mysterious but pleasant glow. Scenes like that suggest there’s beautiful romance unfolding, but instead it's an immensely unlikable movie that took all the worst aspects of The Notebook and nothing good.