When Dawson (James Marsden) receives word that his mentor and surrogate father, Tuck (Gerald McRaney) has died, he must return to his hometown to fulfill Tuck’s final wishes. When he arrives he discovers that Amanda (Michelle Monaghan), his high school girlfriend, has also been selected to complete those last wishes with him. Told in both the past and the present, Dawson and Amanda must navigate old hurts and assumptions to honour Tuck, but may just end up falling in love in the process.
Nicholas Sparks movies are built on a fairly familiar formula: a teenage love affair, someone has cancer, it takes place in a small town, and at least one person takes their shirt off. Obviously this formula has worked quite well in the past, but in The Best of Me it begins to feel old and a little bit tired. Despite the fact that James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are talented actors, their work here feels overwrought and melodramatic. Tackling a single major love story that is told in both the past and the present, both stories work fine, but neither narrative is particularly memorable. The past love story is set in 1992, but if this wasn’t mentioned viewers would think it was before 1965. The setting and tone are completely off, which likely has more to do with strange and uneven direction from Michael Hoffman, whose work here doesn’t stack up to previous works like The Last Station and The Emperor’s Club.
James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan do their best to do good work with what they’re given in this film, but it’s a big task. Marsden’s character run straight along stereotype lines, while Monaghan spends most of the film crying awkwardly, trying to flesh out a fairly lifeless character. Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato play the younger versions of Dawson and Amanda and also try their best. They are a bit mismatched, which leads to fairly limited chemistry. Of course there is a twist at the end, as there is at the end of all Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but this one feels forced and, frankly, ridiculous.