October 17, 2014

The Best of Me

It says here that one of us will die. I sure hope
somebody else is playing us when it happens.

Grade: C –
Director: Michael Hoffman
Starring: Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato and Gerald McRaney
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

The character names may change, but Nicholas Sparks romance porn follows the same formula: a young boy and young girl fall in-and-out-and-back-in love amid some moss-covered Southern setting, then someone dies and there’s a tear-jerker twist. Cut, print it, that’s a wrap.

The latest installment from Sparks’ melodrama machine is The Best of Me, in which former high school sweethearts Dawson (James Marsden) and Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) are forced to reunite back in their small Louisiana hometown after the death of Tuck (Gerald McRaney, the film’s lone highlight), Dawson’s gruff but kindly adoptive father.

The timeline oscillates between Dawson and Amanda’s uneasy reunion and the beginnings of their high school romance 21 years earlier. There Dawson (played by Luke Bracey) is a hunky kid from a white trash, meth-cooking clan. But Dawson is “different,” denoted by the fact that we see him reading Physics textbooks and, later as an adult, “The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking. After getting his fill of physical abuse, Dawson runs away and it taken by Tuck, an ex-Marine widower with an arsenal of rifles and a carefully cultivated flower garden.

Dawson’s checkered family doesn’t stop rich girl Amanda (played by Liana Liberato) from almost obsessively pursuing him. Of course, she’s in no way dazzled by his tousled locks and ripped abs. She likes him because he’s “different.” Amanda’s father doesn’t quite see it that way and unsuccessfully attempts to buy Dawson out of seeing his daughter, an offer that casts dad as a villain despite the reasoned position that he doesn’t want his little girl dating the son of drug-dealing, backwoods rednecks.

The only bit of intrigue involves learning what split up these lovebirds and how high Sparks’ body count will eventually rise. There’s also some schoolyard-grade masochism where it’s OK to cheat on your husband if he’s a rich nebbish who drinks too much and likes golf, and your paramour sports a perpetual two-day beard, drives pickup trucks and did four years in prison.

The narrative treads water until its howler of a climax, which I haven’t the “heart” to reveal but suffice it to say it’s so cloying it cements the film’s status as Sparks self-parody.

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