By this point, you’re either on board with Nicholas Sparks or you’re not, so you don’t really need to see the trailer for “The Best of Me” to know whether or not it’s for you. If you do watch the trailer, though, you’ll see all the familiar hallmarks: pretty rich girl falls for pretty boy from the wrong side of the tracks, a disaster breaks them apart, they get back together, someone says something along the lines of “everything happens for a reason,” all across sleekly photographed sunset. The only thing that changes is which pretty faces are populating the cast (in this case James Marsden and an absurdly overqualified Michelle Monaghan).
In this case, though, the ludicrously melodramatic circumstances are much stranger this time, if the reviews are any indication. Most reviews note the hamminess of Sean Bridgers’ white trash drug dealer/father to Marsden’s character as a highlight early on, while the film’s ending contains at least two or three particularly goofy twists (which you can find in The Reveal section of Scott Tobias’ review, if you’re curious). But really, don’t all class-crossing romances involve accidental deaths, shootouts and organ transplants?
“The Best of Me” opens in theaters today. Please see one of these instead.
Justin Chang, Variety
With its ill-motivated swerves into violent tragedy and the near-fatal miscasting of one pivotal role, the Relativity release seems likely to jerk as many laughs as tears from its target audience, though Sparks fans might still turn out in sufficient date-night droves to continue the author’s string of Hollywood hits. Read more.
Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine
Even permitting that the movie’s setup counts almost by default as one of Sparks’s more complicated scenarios, that makes his failure to draw up compelling, flawed, human characters all the more conspicuous. Here there are only saints and sinners, neither particularly interesting. When one of the two thwarted lovers admits in a climactic moment, “I made a mistake,” no one in the audience believes it for a second. Read more.
Matt Prigge, Metro
And so begins one of those sad romances Sparks regularly pounds out, only a bit — and sometimes a lot — weirder this time. Indicative of the overachieving vibe, young Dawson isn’t just a monosyllabic rent-a-hunk from the wrong side of the tracks; he hails from a family of white trash drug dealers. His abusive, intimidating dad is even played by the enjoyably hammy Sean Bridgers, a real stand-out in Lucky McKee’s truly messed-up “The Woman” who genuinely freaks out the fragile Sparks universe. There’s more to break the spell: There’s gunplay, a scene where Bridgers shows his muscle by destroying someone’s garden and, because half of this is set in 1992, a steady flow of nostalgia radio hits, from The Lemonheads to Tag Team, who really make this one strange Nicholas Sparks entry. Read more.
Scott Tobias, The Dissolve
Hollywood desperately needs more straightforward, earnest, diverting romantic melodramas, but it’s a shame Sparks has cornered the market on them. His films are trite, formulaic, and often absurdly contrived, but their glossy purity burns even more. Read more.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club
As the relationship of the young Amanda and Dawson falls apart in one timeline, their older selves drift back together in the other. That’s a fairly simple, maudlin structure, and it remains that way until the movie reaches its over-heated, soapy third act, which throws in an accidental death, an emergency heart transplant, some meth-gang shoot-outs, and assorted other ludicrous twists. Read more.