This Friday was Halloween. There weren’t a lot of new movies at the theater to pick from, and even most of last week’s were gimmicky, phoned-in looking low budget horror movies. So I rewound the clock a few weeks and went to The Best of Me with my mother. After all: The Lucky One was pretty good, and who can say no to James Marsden?
A pair of high school sweethearts from opposite sides of the tracks are reunited twenty years later by the death of their mentor.
Mom and I both like a good love story. The kind where you float away from the theater thinking: “awww.” Our mistake was looking for one from Nicholas Sparks. The Best of Me was the worst of Nicholas Sparks: he created an adorable couple and then beat them to death with the Hammer of Tragedy.
The Notebook and A Walk to Remember were pretty bad, but The Best of Me takes the cake. It flits back and forth between 1992 and the present, effectively creating two separate love stories so (you guessed it) Nicholas Sparks could ruin them both. Heavy handed attempts to tug on my heartstrings tend to backfire. Mom and I spent most of this movie groaning, rolling our eyes, and whispering sarcastic comments to each other.
DAWSON: I lost you once. I’m not going to lose you again!
MOM: That’s what YOU think.
ME: Poor bastard forgot whose movie he was in.
1992 Dawson Cole is played by Luke Bracey, who was terrific in November Man and is now (I assume) discharging some sort of Actor’s Guild obligation that requires everyone over a certain level of attractiveness to star in a Nicholas Sparks movie. Dawson is a nice guy, but he comes from an abusive, backwoods meth-cooking family led by his dad Tommy (Sean Bridgers). This will in no way come back to bite everyone in the ass later (hah).
ME: You do not look old enough to have fathered an 18-year-old.
DAD: Well… meth makes you look… younger?
Dawson’s cousin Bobby (Robby Rasmussen) and his girlfriend April (Caroline Hebert) are all pregnant and responsible, which I guess inspires Dawson to ditch his a**hole dad and go live with Tuck (Gerald McRaney), the grumpy car mechanic down the road. Dawson goes back to school and meets Amanda (Liana Liberato), a kind rich girl who knows what she wants: to bone the hot young mechanic.
Golly gosh gee, I hope we don’t make any dumbass decisions that tear us apart!
In the present, Dawson is played by James Marsden, who seems to be role-hopping again. You never know what he’s going to do. Despite Dawson’s physics obsession (which is mostly used to generate cutesy quotes about star-crossed love) he became a roughneck. A one-two punch of exploding oil rig and unrelated death-of-mentor bring him back to his old hometown and start him wondering if he’s got a destiny.
ME: Short answer: you do, and it’s bad.
DAWSON: Aw f***.
Present-day Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) has also given up on her dream of being a lawyer who works with kids in order to be a stay-at-home mom to Jared (Ian Nelson), the world’s most awkward college-age son.
AMANDA: Honey, try not to sound like you’re reading your lines from a piece of paper.
SON (looks at paper): Sorry-mom-I-will-try-harder.
Amanda’s supposed to fall for Dawson again, but since she’s married to her college boyfriend, that could get a little awkward. Therefore the movie makes it abundantly clear within the first five seconds that Frank (Sebastian Arcelus) is a total jackass. He’s a) a work obsessed business type b) an alcoholic and c) treats her like a worthless moron, which is pretty much the deadbeat trifecta. So when Amanda starts to get all ‘oh no, I can’t be with you Dawson, I have made a commitment to my husband’ you will want to slap her.
FRANK: *Burrrrp!* Gonna drunk drive to the country club, bitch!
ME: If you stay with that, you ARE a moron.
Because this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, one or both of the main characters must martyr themselves on the Altar of Misery or die of a paper cut or something, once again teaching millions of gullible couples that they’re not really in love unless one or both of them is miserable.
REAL COUPLE: Haha, what a bunch of tools. Let’s go get a smoothie.
The point I’m trying to get at is that I hated The Best of Me. It is not a good couples movie. It is not a feel-good love story. It is not the kind of film you watch with a box of tissues and a pint of ice cream. It is a hamfisted trainwreck. Stay away from it or you’ll leave the theater wanting to punch someone – preferably someone whose name starts with ‘N’ and ends with ‘icholas Sparks.’ I suggest you get your James Marsden fix from 27 Dresses instead.