Every Nicholas Sparks movie follows a similar formula. There are good looking people who fall in love, usually by a lake, and are separated by unforeseen circumstances – sometimes war, sometimes cancer, sometimes overprotective parents, sometimes all of the above. Eventually, they reconnect and fall back in love, only for a shocking twist to tear them apart again. Usually their love manages to transcend all obstacles. And every single time, without fail, you will cry.
Sparks’ latest film, The Best of Me, follows that formula to a T. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing; sometimes you just want something familiar and comfortable to cry to on rainy Saturday.) This time around, the pretty people that fall in love by the lake are named Amanda and Dawson (sadly not played by James Van Der Beek), and their relationship endures both her interfering father and his near-death experience. There is, of course, also a shocking twist… it’s just not the kind you’re thinking of.
See, for much of the trailer, you’re under the impression that this is going to be the tale of the star-crossed love between a teenage girl and her older, bad boy-with-a-heart-of-gold boyfriend. All the clues point to this being the plot: Amanda spots him brooding on his car by himself, he reads to her in trees, he dresses in the classic “tight shirt and jeans” uniform, her father wants to keep them apart for her own good. Oh, and Luke Bracey looks at least 15 years older than Liana Liberato. But then you keep watching the trailer, and it hits you. This isn’t a story about age being nothing but a number. In fact, they’re supposed to be the same age, despite the fact that he looks like he’s in his mid-30s and she’s clearly in high school. Even Dawson’s Creek did a better job of casting people who looked like they could be taking Algebra together, and most of that cast had been over the legal drinking age for years.
Once you get over that shock, you discover that Bracey is meant to be playing the younger version of James Marsden’s character — which is something of a problem, considering the fact that they look nothing alike. They don’t even have the same color eyes. And most bizarrely, whoever edited this video decided to highlight the disparity between the male leads with a slow dissolve from one to the other. Instead of thinking “Oh, how sweet, he always loved her,” you’re instead left going “Wait… does James Marsden actually look younger than his teenage self? What the hell?”
It’s strange. It’s bizarre. It jars you right out of whatever gooey, romantic thoughts about love overcoming time and parental disapproval and searching for clues to see if you can predict which character ends up having the terminal illness. It’s also the most fascinating a Nicholas Sparks movie has ever been, so maybe it was all done on purpose. Maybe his character has Benjamin Button’s disease and that’s why they can’t be together. It would, at the very least, be an exciting change from his standard cancer/war/dementia bag of tricks.
Hopefully we’ll be able to figure this whole thing out when The Best of Me opens on October 17.