The stories of Nicholas Sparks follow a rather predictable pattern. Two star-crossed lovers have a brief yet wondrous romance, then in a sadistic twist of forced storytelling, someone dies.
For anyone remotely familiar with Sparks’ work, it’s a recurring pattern in all of his films. So it comes to no surprise that his latest film, The Best of Me, is sticking to the same script.
Based on Sparks’ best-selling novel of the same name, The Best of Me is a paint-by-numbers love story that deviates very little from the author’s blueprint for romance. It’s a love story that is about as formulaic as powdered milk, but made with a lot less love.
And though Sparks’ books never disguise themselves as “serious literature,” they’re the kind of popcorn entertainment that Hollywood has conveniently begun to call “true love.”
This time, the two star-crossed lovers are Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), two childhood sweethearts who haven’t seen each other in more than 20 years. But when they’re reunited by the death of a mutual friend, old feelings are dusted off for one last romantic trip around memory lane.
It’s a love story about destiny and second chances, but is disappointingly maligned by a lack of warmth. For a film about love triumphing over time and tragedy, The Best of Me is about as refreshing as a bucket of sand. When love is coldly distilled into a series of predictable twists, all that’s left is a hollow shell void of passion and feeling.
What should’ve been an endearing tale about romantic perseverance is instead a roadmap that tells the story where to go and how to get there. But like any adventure, love or otherwise, it’s the detours that make it worth taking. And unfortunately, this adventure has very little detours.
More mechanical than natural
Even the characters feel crocheted from a pattern book of romantic leads. Dawson is the strong silent type while Amanda is the spritely and ambitious girl-next-door. It’s the kind of romantic matchmaking that feels more mechanical than natural, as if the characters were pulled out from a dating app with an algorithm for romantic dramas.
The Best of Me swings between past and present. Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato play the teenage versions of Dawson and Amanda, and act as the window to their slowly unraveling love story.
We see Dawson and Amanda reconnect as adults just as we see them first fall in love as teenagers. And though Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato provide a youthful energy to their relationship, that charisma is nowhere to be seen between their older counterparts, James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan.
The problem, however, isn’t that Marsden and Monaghan are incapable actors, but that the script gives them very little to work with. Dawson and Amanda are so suffocated by their oppressive past that whatever fire they try desperately to get going is quickly snuffed out before any of them can start rubbing their hands.
Tears don’t make a drama
But there’s a good reason why Nicholas Sparks hasn’t strayed from tradition. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The Best of Me was made for a very specific audience in mind. The kind of viewers who gravitate towards romantic dramas and overly sentimental stories. And while some audiences may feel compelled to shed a tear during key scenes, it’s worth remembering that tears don’t make a drama much in the same way that kisses don’t make a love story.
Whatever emotions are wrung out from The Best of Me are the result of careful cinematic manipulation. It’s a knee-jerk biological reaction to what’s happening on screen. And while a similar case can be made for all cinema, The Best of Me doesn’t shy from hiding that fact. Instead of using real insight and earned empathy, this film relies on cliché and forced sympathy.
Overall, The Best of Me suffers from a deafening monotony. The details may have changed, but it’s the same story we’ve seen from Nicholas Sparks over his past eight films. And while that may be a comfort for people who yearn for a bit more routine to their love life, for everyone else, it might be a good time to try something more spontaneous. – Rappler.com
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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