Based on the #1 New York Times Best Seller from celebrated author Nicholas Sparks comes this tender, romantic drama about the timeless power of love. When former high school sweethearts Dawson and Amanda (James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan) meet at a loved one's funeral 20 years after tragedy separated them, their love is reignited. As they recall and relive the past, they come to a deeper understanding about the choices they've made. Also starring Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, and featuring beautiful scenery along with music by Lady Antebellum, The Best of Me is a powerfully romantic story of love, hope and second chances. (from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)
The name Nicholas Sparks has become rather synonymous with romantic stories. From The Notebook to A Walk to Remember, he's been stirring hearts and wetting eyes of millions for years. His latest offering, The Best of Me is based on his novel of the same name and tells the story of a pair of 30-something's who reunite 20 years after losing touch.
The film jumps between the present, starring Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden in the main roles as Amanda and Dawson, and then jumps back to the early 90s, starting in '92, to when they first met as teenagers. They end up reuniting over the loss of a dear friend and the story keeps revealing more about their romantic and tumultuous past as we see them struggling with seeing each other again. James and Michelle are great in their respective roles and have a strong chemistry on screen. They really help bring these characters to life and portraying the rich history between the two of them. And while it seems like everything's in place for this to be a Valentine's Day-ready love flick, things derail pretty intensely around the middle of the story.
Unfortunately, the plot itself isn't just often contrived, it's downright dangerous. The film actually seems to condone and even endorse Amanda having an affair with Dawson (after reuniting) while she's still very married to someone else all because they're in love and "should have been together." It soils the romance in the story that's meant to sweep the viewers off their feet and stir their hearts. We learn that Amanda's marriage started getting rocky when they endured the loss of a child, and her husband Frank started drinking heavily. He became distant and the joy went out of their relationship, leaving Amanda really unhappy and feeling isolated. When she reconnects with Dawson, she finds that he's still in love with her and she never stopped loving him either, so she just spends way too much time alone with him... which inevitably leads to them sleeping together. The story excuses this behavior as "romantic" and that they deserve to be "happy." But it never really focuses on just what is happening -- she's cheating on her husband! There's no way around it; Amanda has an affair with Dawson. It eventually leads to her separating from Frank, but they never even try to work things out. She just gives up on her marriage. The movie continues to romanticize their behavior, which is clearly not OK. What kind of message does this all send? That you have to go with your heart no matter the circumstance? It's just not the case. To make the situation seem more "acceptable" in the film's concept, Amanda's son is going off to college, so her divorce from his father would seem to affect him less directly. But in reality, this is stuff that affects more than just a central character (something that has become more real to me as I've gotten older. These movies that forsake consequence and morality for romance are just ridiculous and not healthy for any impressionable viewers looking for affirmation for their love life).
While on this topic -- there are two cuts of the film on the Blu-Ray disc. The theatrical version and the "Tears of Joy" version which has a different, happier ending. It's not just the ending that's different either; while the affair does still happen, the injury another character sustains is much different and Frank's reaction to Amanda's affair makes it sound like he's realizing where he went wrong and they can start to mend things. But no, it jumps a year into the future and she's divorced him. The theatrical version keeps Frank looking like a heel all the way through, but he's never more than disconnected and distracted, which some counseling and a change of heart could possibly fix. Heaven knows that doesn't always work, but for the sake of the story, it feels like the presentation of their problems as being irreparable is far from airtight (Frank wasn't even painted as a monster or necessarily abusive, so it seemed even worse for there to be no reconciliation--not that him being a monster would justify it, but I think you know what I mean). The ending for the "Tears of Joy" version makes a little more sense to the story than the theatrical one, which seems to go way over the top for the sake of drama and a painful ending than it really needs to. I personally preferred the alternate, new ending to the theatrical one.
But the romantic story isn't The Best of Me's only problem. The film is surprisingly violent as Dawson comes from a pretty horrible family who abuse him and are involved in drugs. In the theatrical version of the film, it takes several really awful turns with the film having a really miserable finale (and kind of unfair and maybe a bit too over-the-top. I have to say it seems really unlikely one of the characters would take it so far, but a deleted scen in the extras kind of backs up this character decision). The blu-ray's alternate "Tears of Joy" cut completely bypasses this brutal ending, but the violence that precedes it is still there. There's even a scene where a gun accidentally goes off and we see the bloody bullet hole in a person's forehead. It's a pretty intense sequence. Also, when Dawson's family rough him up when he's younger, his face gets a bit bloody in a couple instances. Then the family goes after an older man, even kicking him in the face, and we see a sewn-up gash on his forehead afterwards. Seriously, this romantic drama is shockingly violent at times.
Then there's the sexual content. It's a PG-13 film, but it really seems to push the limits (although, I guess quite a few do these days). While teenagers, Dawson goes swimming and comes inside the house alone, in just a towel, to find Amanda sitting on his bed, naked, with a blanket draped on her. She then drops it and the two climb into bed and it's a pretty sensual scene that has no explicit nudity but just barely gets around it. As adults, when Amanda and Dawson have their affair, we see her disrobe from behind (so we see Dawson looking at her) and see her in just lacey panties and part of the side of her bare chest before he disrobes and climbs on top of her in bed. It's a very similar scene to the one when they were younger and then we see them in bed together in the morning. After they get up, she's wearing just his shirt which is partly open (showing a lot of "cleavage"), and then they go swimming in the lake where we see extended shots of Amanda in a wet t-shirt which gets pretty translucent as she floats on her back. In addition to the violence and sexual content, Dawson's villainous dad uses the "F" word the first time we see him, and there's a handful of other profanity and blasphemy springled throughout the rest of the film. Overall, it's a surprisingly edgy PG-13 romantic drama.
There were aspects about the movie that made me want to like it. I enjoy Marsden and Monaghan as actors and their young counterparts did a pretty good job as well. And the young love aspect is certainly relatable, as is reconnecting with people you care about years later. It's a beautifully shot film, and the themes about fate and purpose (which teeter between New Age-ish mumbo jumbo views, like from Steven Hawking's astrological beliefs, and real faith). But in the end, I was just so disappointed in the risky message it presented that it's something I can't get behind and endorse. It's far from sweet, innocent love by any means.
The Best of Me may think it has its heart in the right place, but promoting/condoning an affair between a couple with one being married to someone else is just plain wrong. Add on top of that unusually violent plot elements and you'll end up with one problematic romantic tale. Surely life isn't all roses and boxes of chocolates, but romantic tales are often meant to be escapism in the first place (which is dangerous territory for some viewers in and of itself), but The Best of Me just seems to have far more going against it than it does for it.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 2/3/15)
"Tears Of Joy" Alternate Version (1:55:55) - The alternate cut is about two minutes shorter and has a much happier and less violent ending. There's additional dialog scenes and a slightly less convoluted finish. It's tough to go into detail without spoiling both endings, but this one is arguably better--even though it's a bit more idealistic (while the other one has silly aspects to it too).
Deleted Scenes (9:46) - There are 5 deleted scenes. The first is a short scene where Adult Amanda has dinner with her mom and it is implied that Evelyn resented the bond Amanda had with Tuck. Next, Young Amanda argues with her parents about Dawson, and how they disapprove of him. Then there's a short scene where Adult Amanda comes home late and sees her mom who tells her that she told Frank that Amanda had been home earlier and went to bed. There's then an extended version of when Dawson goes to get Aaron away from Tommy and his gang. Here, Tommy gives Aaron a gun and tries to get him to shoot Dawson. Dawson tries talking him down and then is able to leave with him. As they leave, Tommy promises he'll see him later. Finally, there's a scene where Amanda talks to Jared about recovering from his injury as he lays in bed in his hospital room.
Long for the Ride (1:53) - This is a commercial for the next Nicholas Sparks movie, The Longest Ride, which is about a romance between a girl and a... bull rider.
"I Did" Music Video by Lady Antebellum - This is the music video for the song "I Did," which was featured in the film.
Nicholas Sparks Interviews: Michelle and James (2:47) - The closest thing to a behind-the-scenes look at the story is this and another short chat between author Nicholas Sparks and cast members Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden. Here, they talk about how he wrote the character while in his 40s and what inspired the story. He gets Michelle and James to talk about how they mimicked their younger selves and worked with those actors to form their characters.
Nicholas Sparks Interviews: Liana and Luke (2:18) is the same idea, with Sparks chatting with the actors for the younger characters of Amanda and Dawson. Luke and Liana talk about working together and what drew them to the story.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 2/3/15)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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