Monday, October 6, 2014

Ugh, Again! The Best Of Me Is Typical, Tragic, Dull Cinematic Sparks!

The Good: The acting is all right
The Bad: Entirely contrived plot, Generic and dull characters, Low on-screen chemistry of the leads, Overbearing soundtrack
The Basics: The Best Of Me is yet another film based on a Nicholas Sparks novel that is as unremarkable as it is contrived.

Producers who buy the rights to Nicholas Sparks novels seem to be sweating the impending cinematic release of Fifty Shades Of Grey. Pushed back to the cinematic Sparks’s usual release date of Valentine’s Day, Fifty Shades Of Grey is poised to either wake the readers of the book up to the fact that the novel was an awkward retread of The Story Of O (reviewed here!) or (in chasing an R rating) severely disappoint the titillated audience that was essentially ready for a film that was a somehow classier version of erotica. Instead of holding the film The Best Of Me to directly compete with Fifty Shade Of Grey, The Best Of Me is being released in October to compete against horror films in one of the yearly cinematic slumps.

The thing is, no movie other than The Best Of Me can credibly make the argument that tastes dramatically differ between softcore romance and hardcore erotica. Nicholas Sparks, as an author and those who adapt his works for the screen, is the king of contrived romantic schmaltz. Sparks seems to specialize in making socially-acceptable stories wherein mismatched individuals and characters with seriously objectionable character traits are paired with rich, white, good girls who are willing to turn their backs on everything and everyone they have ever known to be with them, though the love always comes with some element of tragedy. No matter how Sparks dresses it up, all of his stories feature some esoteric concept of love and workable relationships that ultimately ends in a tragedy of some sort. The Best Of Me follows the same formula as always. This time, the underlying theme is that first love trumps all romances that follow.

Twenty years after they were last together, Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier find themselves together again in the small Louisiana town they grew up in. The two are brought back together as part of the terms of a mutual friend’s will. The initial relationship between Dawson and Amanda is a tumultuous one: Amanda comes from a good family and Dawson is essentially a criminal whose family has a long history of intimidation and crime throughout the town. Despite the supposedly powerful passion between them, Amanda heads off to college and Dawson is sent to jail. When Dawson gets out of prison, he does not pursue Amanda and instead heads out to eke out a living for himself.

In fulfilling their mutual friends’ posthumous wishes, Dawson and Amanda begin to rekindle their relationship. Amanda, however, is married to the alcoholic, self-destructive Frank and Dawson is pursued upon returning to town by the local psychopath, Ted. Even as Amanda and Dawson surrender to temptation, tragedy looms over them and threatens their rekindled love.

The Best Of Me is hampered by any number of problems in the concept and the execution. Conceptually, The Best Of Me asks a lot of viewers by forcing them to believe that Amanda’s character does not learn at all from her first relationship. Amanda ignored her friends and family when she started a relationship with Dawson, a man who pushed her away, had a dubious life of crime and ended up in prison for years before abandoning her. She, apparently, romanticized that relationship over growing and starting to look for any number of smart, stable men who would be her intellectual equal that one has to believe she would have met in college or afterwards.

In a similar fashion, Dawson has never, apparently, met a woman who interested him. While his choice of jobs keeps him from meeting women, the idea that Dawson has clung to the woman whom he pushed away, but never tried to reconnect with her makes no rational sense. In other words, the viewer has to believe that Dawson either loved Amanda for twenty years without ever trying to have a relationship with her or he somehow moved on without ever finding anyone and when he finds her again twenty years later, he is willing to rekindle things. Ack!

The execution of The Best Of Me is riddled with problems. From the casting – have we honestly reached the age where James Marsden is the older version of a late teenager?! – to the chemistry, The Best Of Me is often agonizing to watch. Featuring three couples with absolutely no on-screen chemistry, The Best Of Me is anything but romantic in the way the film looks and feels. James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan (Dawson and Amanda) have no on-screen chemistry. Unfortunately, Monaghan and Sebastian Arcelus (Frank) have no real on-screen chemistry, either. While that makes some sense, Monaghan and Arcelus fail to sell the backstory and make the viewer believe there had ever been anything incredible or noteworthy or even loving between Amanda and Frank. What further drains the credibility of the film is how Liana Liberato and Luke Bracey are unable to realistically play passion as the younger versions of Amanda and Dawson. In order to believe that after twenty years, Amanda and Dawson would still pine for one another, their initial relationship has to be sold as something more than just teenage hormones. They fail.

On the performance front, only Gerald McRaney’s Tuck truly pops, though that is not at all outside McRaney’s previously-established range. McRaney plays a mentor and father figure, not at all a shock or a stretch for the talented, venerable actor. His role in The Best Of Me might be essential to the story, but it is not at all one of the deeper or more memorable roles of his career.

Director Michael Hoffman maintains the continuity of films based on Nicholas Sparks movies; so there are sweeping landscapes, young people pawing at one another and more sequences of the pauses before kisses than actual passionate kisses. If producers honestly believe that that type of film is occupying the same niche as hardcore nudity and sexual adventurism, then not holding The Best Of Me until Valentine’s Day makes some sense. As it stands, the demographic of simplistic women who believe that true love is somehow only synonymous with lack of fulfillment or unfaithfulness can be disappointed both in October of this year and on Valentine’s Day of next year.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragons Of Camelot
10,000 Days
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Hit By Lightning
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
The Judge
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
Guardians Of The Galaxy
The Zero Theorem


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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