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Sparks Notes: When 'The Best of Me' is actually my organ donation

“Sparks Notes” is one hot-blooded woman’s deep dive into the Nicholas Sparks film oeuvre. Each week, we’ll journey through another movie based on a Sparks novel. Why? Because I’m a lover of romance, I enjoy the gratuitous use of extremely well-made male forearms, and honestly, I have the time. So if you’re a Sparks fan, join me as we feel the love, mourn the dying, ogle all the beautiful people who moved to North Carolina, and cry … a lot. Sounds fun, right? Needless to say: SPOILERS ABOUND.

Admittedly, I did not see 2014’s The Best of Me in theaters. I did, however, purchase the movie when it was finally released on Blu-ray. Why did I feel compelled to own a movie I had never seen before? I’m a sucker for manipulative marketing ploys, that’s why. How am I supposed to resist James Marsden’s jawline (IT DOESN’T QUIT), Michelle Monaghan’s luminous skin, and people getting second chances at love?! Set to the sweet vocals of John’s Legend’s “All of Me,” no less. Maybe I failed my entire gender, but I was ordering it before I even realized what I was doing.

THAT’S THE POWER OF LOVE, YOU GUYS. Celine Dion said so.

The Best of Me | Released Oct 17, 2014

Directed by Michael Hoffman | Written by J. Mills Goodloe and Will Fetters, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks

Starring Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato

Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato in The Best of Me
TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT-ISH: In true Sparks fashion, The Best of Me alternates between ex-lovers Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) and Dawson (James Marsden) reuniting after 20 years, and the story of how they met as teens (played by Liana Liberato and Luke Bracey) way back in 1992. You know it’s 1992 because all the cool kids are unironically blasting “Whoomp! (There It Is).”

Dawson Cole hails from The Wrong Side of the Tracks. His father Tommy (Sean Bridgers) is a backwoods drug lord who likes to shower his son with right hooks to the face; the rest of the Coles make terrible hair choices. Dawson is different. He’s reserved, he’s loyal, and he loves to pass the time by reading Stephen Hawking’s books at the top of a water tower. Early on, he takes one last beating from his father and runs away, winding up in the garage of kindly Tuck Hostetler (Gerald McRaney).

Dawson meets plucky, goal-oriented Amanda, and the two enter into a whirlwind romance with kisses in the rain, sex in a lake house, and lots of swoony slow dancing. Amanda pushes Dawson to believe in himself and Dawson loves Amanda unconditionally. It is, by all accounts, True Love.

There are problems, of course. On prom night, Tommy swings by the Hostetler house and introduces his boot to Tuck’s forehead. Dawson returns to find Tuck badly hurt and takes off, guns a-blazing (literally). Dawson’s kind, father-to-be cousin Bobby (Robby Rasmussen) tags along in an effort to stop Dawson from doing something he’ll regret. Dawson confronts his dad, and in the midst of the chaos, Dawson accidentally SHOOTS HIS COUSIN IN THE HEAD.

Dawson takes a plea deal and testifies against his family to get a lesser sentence, but he still has to serve time. Amanda vows to wait for him, but he refuses to see her, and eventually she is forced to move on.
James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan in The Best of Me
Present-day Dawson works on an oil rig (SWOON) and Amanda is stuck in a deteriorating marriage. They both get a call that Tuck has died and are thrown into one another’s lives again. Dawson believes it is FATE. Amanda tries to ignore the fact that Dawson is peering into her soul with eyes full of love, but it is futile.

The two spend the weekend rekindling their romance and admitting that they’ve never stopped loving one another. Amanda, however, is married and has a teenage son. Dawson is thankful that they got the little time they had and can live with it, but once Amanda is home, she ends things with her husband. She’s ready to be with Dawson UNTIL she gets a phone call informing her that her son has been in a terrible car accident and will die without a heart transplant.

Meanwhile, Dawson is trying to save his cousin’s son from a life with the Cole family and has another confrontation with his past. Just as Dawson finds out there may be hope with Amanda, Tommy tracks him down and MURDERS HIM.

Must I spell it out for you? Of course Amanda’s son gets that transplant, and OF COURSE it is Dawson’s heart. I cannot. I CANNOT. Turns out, Dawson did have a purpose in life, and that purpose was to die so that Amanda’s son could live. TEENAGERS RUIN EVERYTHING.

Now, please be aware that there is a “Tears of Joy” alternate ending to this movie. It basically disqualifies the whole “fate” and “life’s purpose” bent of the original and turns it into a movie about two people who were separated for 20 years and then get back together, which is, um … pretty thin. HOWEVER: MARSDEN LIVES. And, I’ll be honest, it did make me cry legit tears of joy. It is the only version that exists in my world now.

For these purposes, though, back to the original …

AND WHAT DID WE LEARN ABOUT LOVE IN CLASS TODAY? Maybe, let your One True Love visit you in prison if she wants to? Especially if your sentence is only four to eight years. I mean, that is basically the same as if you went to a distant medical school. Well, except for the possible shankings and a growing affinity for prison hooch. But seriously, it’s her prerogative.

BUT HOW DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL? TERRIBLE. Look, I know movies based on Sparks novels are always sad to varying degrees, but this one is just completely, depressingly sad. Dawson’s whole point of existence is to have a spring romance, go to prison for killing his own cousin, be reunited with the love of his life for a long weekend, and then DIE? I know Dawson would probably be glad he was able to save Amanda’s son, but that is just so dumb. Those gardening skills deserved better.

James Marsden in The Best of Me


  • Are the two main characters from different worlds? Amanda attends parties where the dress code is pastel, while Dawson’s house is located on the set of Deliverance.
  • Are there parents who don’t approve? Amanda’s dad pops up once to show us his barn full of cars and offer Dawson money to stay away from his daughter. But don’t discount Dawson’s dad. He disapproves of his son so much, he straight up murders him. WE GET IT, DADS.
  • Is there time spent palling around in some type of water-based location? There is a magical pond that gets steamy action from both the teen and adult versions of Amanda and Dawson.
  • Does someone die? I CAN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.
  • Is there a wise older person? God bless Tuck Hostetler. He sets the whole reunion in motion with his oddly specific will. He’s also obsessed with keeping his garden on fleek, which leads to the below. America is forever indebted to that wise old man.
  • Do the men perform activities that require well-developed forearms? Both timelines include some light auto-mechanic work and onion chopping, but it’s the gardening that steals the show. Oh, the gardening! Tank top–clad gardening! Shirtless gardening! Gardening in a tight Henley! Sometimes the gardening takes up more time than scenes with actual story beats. I’m not complaining; I’ll take a movie well-steeped in Green Thumb Porn over a fully developed plot any day.

Next time: Safe Haven. It’ll be my first time viewing, and I hear there are ghosts involved. I am so in.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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