THE BEST OF ME (Michael Hoffman, 2014)

I stopped watching movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels after NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, with its heavily contrived ending despite the charming pair of Richard Gere and Diane Lane. Then again, I took a chance with SAFE HAVEN, thinking a plot involving a woman running away from her past is good movie material, which to my dismay was another dud. 

Then comes this film, which I was not too eager about but not too dismissive either given the fact that Michelle Monaghan, a capable actress headlines this new Nicholas Sparks vehicle, teamed with James Marsden, a guy who is heavily underrated in those X-MEN films. And for a while this film did not disappoint.

Dawson Cole (Marsden) and Amanda Collier (Monaghan) are reunited years after drifting apart, when a personal tragedy occurs. In that brief moment of solitude, both of them are forced to reexamine their past and try to find out if they can still be together again.

Flashback to when they were in their teens. The shy young Dawson (Luke Bracey) meets headstrong and persuasive Amanda (Liana Liberato), and they become a couple despite the issues in their respective families. It is a classic case of the poor versus rich stock conflict, where the girl's parents tries to buy off the guy in order to stay away from their daughter, and the guy who has a drug dealing, abusive ass for a father runs away from home. The only breath of relief in this mixed bag of cliches is the onscreen arrival of Tuck (Gerald McRaney), a widower who shelters Dawson and treats him as his own son. Tuck is the moral and intellectual center of the story, and is also the cause of the lovers' reunion in the beginning of the film. 

With the moments of nostalgia, the memorable quotes, and pardon me here as this is not word for word accurate ("You want me to fall in love with you all over again? How do I do that, when I haven't even stopped?"), the beautiful cast and the dreamy location, what's not there to like? It's a great movie designed to make you fall in love all over again! 

Well sure, if you are a still single, hopeless romantic, no boyfriend (or girlfriend) since birth that thinks Katherine Heigl movies deserve to be included in The Criterion Collection.

There is a glimmer of hope that promises a new creative turn for Nicholas Sparks somewhere along the film, but that gets obliterated when the story resorted again to cheap gimmickry in order to elicit some sense of regret, or tears from the audience. The ending is a semi-rehash of one of Nicholas Sparks' novels, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, and the precursor to that ending is just so pathetic it deserves a pity party. 

James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan give it their all, but their range is limited by the script's over indulgence in sappy drama. Surprisingly, Liana Liberato as the young Amanda hogs the limelight. Even in the most preposterous of scenes, she shines. 

And really, Nicholas Sparks? That's the conflict you're going with which resulted to the separation of Dawson and Amanda? Where did that come from?

Lovely cabin, though. Who could resist getting back together in a secluded cabin as lovely as that? 

MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE remains the one and only film from a Nicholas Sparks book that I cherish so much. I doubt if any further Sparks movie lives up to its quality sometime soon.   



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