Michelle Monaghan as Amanda
James Marsden as Dawson
Luke Bracey as Younger Dawson
Liana Liberato as Young Amanda
Gerald McRaney as Tuck
Sean Bridgers as Tommy Cole
Caroline Goodall as Evelyn
Clarke Peters as Morgan Dupree
Sebastian Arcelus as Frank
Jon Tenney as Harvey Collier
Rob Mello as Ted Cole
Hunter Burke as Abee
Robby Rasmussen as Bobby / Aaron
Caroline Hebert as Young April
Ian Nelson as Jared
Directed by Michael Hoffman
After the death of their mutual friend Tuck, former lovers Amanda Collier (Michelle Monaghan) and Dawson Cole (James Marsden) are reunited after 21 years to reminisce and relive old times and how things went bad in their relationship. We see it all happen as it did decades earlier with the younger Amanda (Liana Liberato) falling for the hunky Dawson (Luke Bracey) even though they come from different social classes.
It may be smart for me to preface this review with the fact that “The Best of Me” is only the second Nicholas Sparks movie I’ve ever seen, having never read any of his books. From what I’ve seen, I expect this to be my last attempt to give Nicholas Sparks a chance.
The film opens on an oil rig where 39-year-old Dawson Cole (Marsden) is working when something blows up starting a fire that sends him 100 feet over the railing to the sea below. He somehow survives and learns that his friend and mentor Tuck has died at the age of 92 and has requested he return to the bayous of New Orleans where he reunites with Amanda (Monaghan), his girlfriend from 20 years ago.
We then flashback to 1992 to when Amanda and Dawson first met and fell in love. Something that will immediately jump out at anyone with eyes is that Luke Bracey looks nothing like a younger James Marsden and certainly doesn’t look 20 years younger than Marsden. (I’m not even sure their eyes are the same color but Bracey seems quite a bit taller.) That alone can be fairly distracting but also the fact that everyone seems to be acting and dressing like it’s the ?70s rather than 1992, which really wasn’t that long ago. No, I wasn’t expecting smartphones or modern technology, but at least they could have try a little harder to create a realistic period piece than just playing “Whoomp There It Is” or the Lemonheads “You’re your Arms” (both which happened to have been released in 1993. Oops.)
As it happens, Dawson comes from a family of white trash criminals while Amanda comes from a wealthy well-to-do Southern family i.e. the oldest romantic cliché in the book, so when they meet and fall in love you just know it won’t work out, though things may not play out exactly like you might think. Seeing that Dawson has problems, Tuck–played by Gerard McRaney, who isn’t bad–takes him in and tries to protect him from his abusive father.
With a character named Dawson, you’d think they would want to try really hard not to remind anyone that there was a character of the same name played by James Van Der Beek on a popular television show, but no, there seems to be a deliberate scene where Lacey comes to the window in the pouring rain to woo Liberetto. Thankfully, they restrain themselves from playing Paula Cole, although I’d still want to run this review under the title, “Dawson’s Crap.”
When it comes to Dawson and Amanda picking a song, she turns on an old-timey radio and the only song playing is the Cowboy Junkies’ cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” from four years earlier. This is in the bayous of New Orleans, which is seemingly credible until the older Dawson whips out a CASSETTE of the album (yes, this is in 2013) and starts playing it, leading up to a romantic interlude between the two of them.
You can’t really blame Monaghan or Marsden for the film’s many failures, because they’re both doing their best at keeping a straight face while delivering the cheesiest dialogue. (I’m convinced Marsden broke character and starts laughing at one point, but they keep it in the movie.) They have decent chemistry together and they really step things up in the more emotional and dramatic sequences, but those scenes also feel disjointed. We see them enjoying a nice beer together after spreading Tuck’s ashes, then we flashback to when their relationship ran into issues, and then we’re back to the present day where they’re suddenly fighting as if it was brought up again just as they were moving past what happened. And then a few minutes later, he pops in the Cowboy Junkies cassette and they’re sleeping together. If only it were that easy?
The movie’s biggest issues lie in the flashback sequences, and much of that comes in the form of Sean Bridgers as Tommy Cole, Dawson’s father, who may literally be the worst actor who has ever stepped in front of a camera. Not only does his character look like an idiot due to his off-putting hairstyle (which gets even worse when we see him 20 years later), but he is just a walking Southern white trash cliché. Amanda’s modern-day husband isn’t much better as he’s made out to be the worst uncaring drunken jerk to try to make Marsden’s Dawson look even more like the perfect mate for Amanda. Instead, it makes her look pathetic, although you just know that women will feel sympathy for her.
It doesn’t help that Michael Hoffman is mostly a hack director who doesn’t know how to improve on a bad script, and make no mistake that the script for “The Best of Me” is very, very bad. One can probably assume most of the worst aspects of the plot come straight from Sparks’ book though you may start wondering why so much time is spent on the conflict between Dawson and his father. That’s because it eventually will lead to an attempt to create a big, dramatic twist ending, which we won’t give away. We will say that the movie would have been fine if it ended in a different way (and 20 minutes earlier), but then Sparks had to throw in just one more big revelation. Apparently, it’s supposed to bring home all the earlier babble about one’s destiny, but more likely it’s going to lead to one of the most awkward mother-son conversations ever.
The Bottom Line:
“The Best of Me” might have been the worst Nicholas Sparks movie ever? not that I’ve seen enough others for comparison. The fact that it’s corny, dumb and predictable and rife with clichés is exacerbated by the fact that everything about it just seems lazy.