By Mark Saldana

Rating: 1.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Of all of the Nicholas Sparks film adaptations, The Notebook still remains the best. Since then, all others that have followed have ranged from good/mediocre to terrible.  The Best of Me falls into the terrible range.  As I sat through this contrivance of a romance with all of its silly and melodramatic twists, I felt like I was watching a bad, feature length soap opera.  Chock full of cheesy, corny, and syrupy sweet writing, the screenplay is one of the worst I have experienced this year.  In addition to the painful dialogue and scenarios, one particular casting choice and mostly soap opera caliber acting make this one of the worst films I have seen this year.

Based on Sparks’ novel of the same name, The Best of Me tells the story of high school sweethearts Amanda and Dawson and how tragedy would eventually keep them apart.  Amanda and Dawson (Liana Liberato, Luke Bracey) were the most unlikely couple in their school.  Both from completely opposite socio-economic strata, they fall in love, much to the dismay of both their families.  On their prom night, an accidental tragedy would separate the two lovers for most of their lives.  When Tuck (Gerald McRaney), a man near and dear to both of them, passes away, the adult Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) and Dawson (James Marsden) return home to pay their respects.  The reunion sparks old feelings that have remained within them since that fateful prom night.

Adapted by writers J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters and directed by Michael Hoffman, The Best of Me did actually have me engaged at times, but frustratingly took me out of these few moments with painfully bad dialogue, ludicrous scenarios, and a horrendous conclusion that literally made my jaw drop. There have been a few films this year that have made my jaw drop, but these have received my highest rating of four stars.  This movie may have had the same effect, but for a completely different reason.  I do have to admit that one moment in the film actually played out beautifully, but that is one golden moment among many cheesy, corny and ridiculous ones.  I have seen soap operas and Lifetime movies with better writing and that’s not saying much.

I understand that it can be a difficult process to cast actors who look identical, but it seems like the filmmakers behind this movie didn’t really try to find matching actors for the adult and teenage Dawsons.  James Marsden and Luke Bracey do not look alike at all! In fact Marsden looks shorter than Bracey.  Even the way the two actors speak is a complete mismatch.  Bracey works a southern accent in the film which goes with character, but Marsden uses his normal manner of speaking.  I cannot believe the filmmakers thought that people would buy these two actors as the same character, but from different eras.  At least Liana Liberato and Michelle Monaghan match better.  They’re not a perfect match, but the differences in their case are forgivable.  Still, their acting doesn’t make up for any of these discrepancies.  Marsden, Monaghan and their younger counterparts disappoint with stilted and robotic performances.  The only actor who performs wonderfully in the movie is Gerald McRaney, but he gets way too little screen time.

Because I am a guy and know what it’s liked to be dragged by a date to movies I would rather skip, I usually like to give the straight dope to those like me whose dates really want to see these types of date movies.  If they are tolerable or actually good, I often recommend that they make it a date night.  In this case, I must recommend that readers with similar tastes to myself sit this one out and let their significant others go out with their friends to see it.  The Best of Me is definitely the worst of the Sparks movies so far.


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