The Best of Me is a bad movie. Even those who enjoy adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’ manipulative, formulaic romance novels will recognize the debilitating faults in director Michael Hoffman’s watered-down and barely palatable effort. Taking it one step further, the final 15 minutes of The Best of Me contain the year’s most ludicrous ending. It’s as if Hoffman rewards himself for staving off a handful of crippling rom-drama clichés by jamming each and every one into his clumsy, ridiculous conclusion. It almost needs to be seen to be believed. Almost.
The preposterous finale to The Best of Me would be doubly offensive if the rest of the movie was anything to write home about. It isn’t. In fact, as hunky Luke Bracey gardened shirtless in the Southern heat, while puffy-lipped Liana Liberto danced in the headlights of a vintage car, and while irresponsible James Marsden dove into a Louisiana lake with his true love, Michele Monaghan, it suddenly became perfectly clear that The Best of Me was content to chase former ghosts of Sparks’ past. It’s little more than a carbon copy of stories you’ve either read or watched before. It adheres to the Sparks checklist, bringing nothing unique, exciting or spontaneous to the overly familiar table.
Sparks’ story follows star-crossed Southern lovers from opposite sides of the tracks (sigh) who are separated for years – by an event I won’t share here – but reunite decades later to rekindle their romance. Hoffman’s takes place in contemporary days (where the characters of Dawson and Amanda are played by Marsden and Monaghan), as well as the mid-1990s, when Bracey and Liberto waltz through the couple’s cute-meet days. If you’ve skimmed even one Sparks novel, you can fill in the rest. Young Dawson comes from a broken home, lorded over by a comically abusive father (Sean Bridgers, trying to have some fun with this drivel). Old Amanda suffers an alcoholic, depressed husband… making it easy for the audience to sympathize when she finally dumps him to run back to Dawson’s open arms.
Predictability is The Best of Me’s greatest sin. The screenplay might as well have been a game of Mad Libs, where plot devices are lifted straight out of previous Sparks books (and subsequent adaptations) and shoehorned into this bland narrative. Humdrum Sparks adaptations have been saved by smoldering leads who ooze chemistry. Nights In Rodanthe, for example, would be waterlogged nonsense if not for the spark (no pun intended) between Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Neither coupling of Dawson and Amanda enjoys that connection, however, so the movie sags no matter which troubled relationship it’s traveling behind. You know your romantic movie is in serious trouble when you don’t care if the main couple gets together in the first place, or gets back together when life tries to force their planets to realign.
And yet, for all its casual mistakes, The Best of Me didn’t prepare me for that astoundingly bad ending – where the complete laundry list of lazy romantic-drama clichés collide like a heartbreaking, 15-car pile up on the side of Lover’s Lane. Right when I was ready to dismiss The Best of Me as passable broth for the lovesick Sparks faithful, that conclusion dropped… ensuring that this disastrous adaptation would be remembered after all – for all the wrong reasons.