Movie Review: 'The Best of Me' (2014)

Playing as more of a romantic mystery than a love story, “The Best of Me” is an adaption of best-selling author Nicholas Sparks’ novel of the same name. A dual timeline weaves together the romantic entanglement of Amanda (Michelle Monoghan) and Dawson (James Marsden). Meeting up again after a 20 year estrangement, they reconnect while sifting through the estate of their recently deceased, mutual friend.

Drawn back to their hometown, memories of the past come flooding back and the two begin to bond over their long ago love. The question at the heart of the story is what drove these two love birds apart in the first place. As flashbacks take viewers back to the duo’s high school days, they recall a past filled with painful memories.

One of the few highlights along the way being the love that develops between them. All of this leads up to reveal, the life altering event that forever changes the course of their lives.

For teenage Dawson (Luke Bracey), the looming cloud of an abusive father and criminally inclined family, make his dreams of reaching lofty scholastic achievements, a daunting challenge. For the teenage Amanda (Liana Liberato), a kind-hearted, accomplished student, the allure of a good guy stuck in bad circumstances proves too much to resist and she sets out to help him.

Clearly from the onset there are a cache of clichés that beckon for a formulaic outcome. Where it manages to break away from the pack is in portraying its Romeo as a truly good kid, who has hit the bad dad genetic lotto, making him a sympathetic victim of cosmic cruelty.

Rather than a cocky bad boy who walks through the movie determined, and entitled to get the girl come hell or high water (i.e. “Endless Love”). It's this alteration that makes Amanda’s draw to him easier to endorse than the typical hormone induced origin of star-crossed love affairs that usually fill the screen.

When it comes to the romance genre Dawson and Amanda’s opposing "side of the tracks" dynamic is a relied upon recipe for romantic conflict and it hits on all of the usual buttons, even down to the hesitant protective parent stepping in. To its credit “The Best of Me” presents the danger that's discussed as a real threat and not the paranoia of an overprotective parent.

Hampering the movie is the zigzag between timelines, which causes direct comparisons between the younger and older cast members. While Michelle Monaghan and Liana Liberato prove to be ideal counterparts as Amanda, the same cannot be said for Dawson's portayers, James Marsden and Luke Bracey. Not only do they share zero physical resemblance, their acting styles do not correlate either. This makes the transition from past to present all the more jarring.

Unlike “The Notebook”, viewers are aware the younger and older set are one in the same from the outset so the lack of continuity in casting isn’t a purposeful tool meant to be misguiding for a shocking plot reveal. The only thing it accomplishes is leaving viewers to feel as if they’re watching two unrelated storylines.

While the story is grandiose and takes many melodramatic turns it gains a valuable edge with the inclusion of a mature mentor for the youngsters to take guidance from, "Major Dad" star Gerald McRaney in a robust performance.

Seldom is the older generation given a voice in movies lately, so it is refreshing to have them included here. The moral of the story is the same as you’ll find in most romances. Young love knows better and always finds a way, a romantic notion that can be devoid of much reality.

Something “The Best of Me” does depict is the fleeting loyalty that can be shown by a young lover, in this case Amanda and how despite all of her big declarations, she moved on with her life in a very short period of time, even though her heart supposedly remained with Dawson.

He, on the other hand, remained true to her the entire time they were apart. Without her returning his measure of loyalty, their love story is very one-sided; undermining a desire for them to end up together.

In terms of likability, adult Amanda starts the movie from a difficult position. She is married and since suffering a terrible tragedy her husband has been taking solace in a bottle and instead of working to get him help for his dependency, she goes off canoodling with her high school sweetheart. With her home life in rough shape and her son going away to college, she clearly spots an opportunity to leave her marriage and seizes it for all its worth.

Romantic music and beautiful cinematography can't change those facts. Her disloyalty is a personality flaw that plays heavily into the movie and it's not an attribute that makes for an overly sympathetic heroine, quite the opposite.

Why Dawson, an incredibly loyal person would be drawn to her despite this gaping personality flaw is a major plot hole the story struggles to fill in, tending to rely on its leads chemistry for viewers to overlook it.

Anchored by the sparkling performances of Michelle Monaghan and Liana Liberato, "The Best of Me" finds the winds to sail and James Marsden (who notably played the sadly discarded third wheel in "The Notebook") proves to be one of the better leading men to take on the heavy lifting of Nicholas Sparks’ idealized male protagonists.

“The Best of Me” is as much a weeper as “A Walk to Remember." A vast improvement over “Safe Haven”, features more likable characters than “Nights in Rodanthe”, is less gratifying than “The Lucky One” and more logical than “Dear John”. While not on par with “The Notebook”, it is still a strong and thought-provoking effort. Rating: 6.5/10

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