The Best of Me
Insipid romantic drama that wastes the talent of James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan
The ninth adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel is as soft focus and simple minded as its predecessors but with a whiff of fatigue which suggests even the filmmakers involved have grown weary of identikit romantic tragedies. Michael Hoffman steers a far from buoyant vessel that makes The Notebook look like Casablanca.
James Marsden is Dawson, an insanely handsome, inexplicably single oil rig worker who's torn up by mysterious guilt and who has spent 21 years pining for his high-school girlfriend. In terms of what kind of man he is, we know for starters that his physical aptitude is matched by his intellectual prowess, as the opening scene shows him reading Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design during a break in his shift.
The deathbed machinations of a friend (Gerald McRaney) reunite Dawson with said sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan, giving it way more than the material deserves), now a woman awash with disappointment. Memories come flooding back for both and we watch their younger selves (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) fall in love and break apart.
The Best of Me insists on using the word 'destiny' as a substitution for meddling and coincidence and is the sort of film where a doctor proffering an expert opinion describes something as 'a miracle'. It's lazy and cynical, aiming to replay the romance genre's greatest hits but is hopeless at even that, showing the button-pushing ability of a blind man.
Bracey's lack of resemblance to Marsden is an appalling distraction, which the screenplay itself bizarrely addresses. Scenes whizz by in seconds, illustrating the cursory approach to character and Hoffman's disinterest in detail, yet the film is nearly two-hours long and quite the slog, and spends more than a third of its duration threatening to conclude. The conviction of the leads saves this from being a total stinker, although an ending of industrial strength stupidity places it a mere whisker away.
General release from Wed 15 Oct.