It's a story we've heard time and time again and, except for a few deviations to the plot, it's the basic premise for The Best of Me. The latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks' (The Notebook, Message in a Bottle) novel stars James Marsden (Xmen: Days of Future Past; Enchanted) and Michelle Monaghan (Due Date; Kiss,kiss, Bang, Bang) as past lovers who meet again 20 years later. Luke Bracey (The November man) and Liana Liberato (If I Stay) play the younger versions of Dawson and Amanda, who we see in a series of flashbacks.
When Dawson and Amanda each receive a phone call that Tuck (Gerald McRaney; The A-Team) , a beloved father figure and mentor to the young couple, has passed away, they find themselves face to face dealing with all the emotions left buried for the past 20 years. Even though time has passed and they are different people with very different lives, they still struggle with the love they feel and the anger, hurt and sorrow that tore them apart so long ago. Ultimately they must once again leave each other but with a different perspective on each other and themselves.
As with every Sparks' story, there is young love and romance ultimately followed by heartache and The Best of Me is no different. If you plan to go to this movie expecting something else, don't bother. There is a working formula that isn't deviated from, including the unhappy ending.
While I happen to like both Marsden and Monaghan, I didn't particularly like them in this film. It's a little difficult because they are supposed to be the same Dawson and Amanda only older but I felt they lacked some of the intangible that made younger Amanda and Dawson so likeable. While the characters are supposed to develop and change as they grow older and experience life, I still felt a little bit of a disconnect between the older and younger Amanda and Dawson. I also felt Monaghan and Marsden lacked Chemistry which may be which I didn't particularly believe them as the older couple.
Liberato and Bracey, on the other hand were terrific and had tons of chemistry which I think really added to the story. They were so believable as young lovers with a bit of naiveté, it was a pleasure to watch their story develop. Bracey holds his own but the real star of the movie is Liberato; at time vulnerable and childlike while at other times incredibly strong minded and mature. I believe her performance elevated Bracey's bringing him almost up to her level.
Besides Liberato, I enjoyed some of the stunning visuals director Michael Hoffman (Gambit, One Fine Day) provided. The Opening sequence on an oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico lent itself to majestic views of the open water and Hoffman utilized it beautifully. He also created a flow to the story that isn't choppy or disjointed, which can sometimes happen when jumping between the present and the past.
The Best of me is not great cinema and won't be winning any awards but Liberato is terrific and the photography is beautiful. Otherwise, it's what you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks' film. C