2 Stars – Disappointing
Expecting to enjoy the same romantic depth of Nicholas Sparks as we saw in The Notebook, we were disappointed in this film. Also based on a novel by Sparks, The Best of Me is similar in its interplay of early relationship difficulties and present-day realities. However, in this instance, the romance turns tragic in ways that are disturbing and far less enjoyable.
Directed by Michael Hoffman and adapted for the screen by J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters, the lovers are from two sides of the social strata. Dawson Cole (teenager – Luke Bracey, adult – James Marsden) is the youngest son of a violent father (Sean Bridgers) whose criminal life includes emotional and physical abuse of Dawson. Outcast in their community, the Cole family reputation not only causes Dawson to withdraw but also causes others to reinforce his lack of acceptability by their rejection.
Coming from a wealthy family but intuitively drawn to Dawson as she witnesses his strength and heart, Amanda Collier (teenager – Liana Liberato, adult – Michelle Monaghan) reaches out to Dawson and they begin an unexpected and unaccepted relationship. Like all romantic tragedies beginning with Romeo and Juliet, the fact that their families try to keep them apart only causes them to be drawn to each other all the more.
The story is tense and complex so we won’t spoil the plot twists, but the moral values are lacking in appalling ways. The cruelty of Dawson’s father and brothers comes from an evil that is difficult to watch, while the materialism of Amanda’s father (Jon Tenney) is also disturbing as he attempts to bribe Dawson by offering to pay for his college if he will end his relationship with Amanda.
The most redemptive character is an auto-mechanic named Tuck (Gerald McRaney) whose own grief at losing his wife has isolated him until Dawson seeks refuge in his garage as he flees from his father’s abuse. It is his fatherly relationship with Dawson that reveals the power of love.
The philosophical questions of larger forces at work in our lives that reach across the miles and the years creating lasting purpose and destiny are suggested but not developed. Spiritual and moral values are not explored, except perhaps by examples of what not to do. The Best of Me is difficult to enjoy even though we feel sympathy for the characters, and the resolutions the tale attempts to make are not adequate for the anguish we go through to get to the ending.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
- Abuse within the Cole family is all the more appalling because it has no softness that a mother could have provided. Why do you think this tale left the mother out? Did it make Dawson more or less capable of loving Amanda? Why do you answer as you do?
- Just as Dawson’s father trusted in violence, Amanda’s father trusted in money. Both caused them to drive their children from their homes and from their lives. Have you experienced either types of behavior in parents or families you have known? What was the outcome with the children as they grew to adulthood?
- The final solution is the very definition of a “romantic tragedy”. How would you have ended this story if you were writing it?