Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden.
Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden. Gemma Lamana/Gemma LaMana

Isn’t fate a funny thing? Especially when Nicholas Sparks makes it up. Filmmakers love to adapt his stuff because he puts together narratives riddled with contrived coincidences and implausibilities meant to seem like the workings of providence when in fact they are the creations of a hackneyed mind.

Take, for example, Michael Hoffman’s adaptation of Sparks’s “The Best of Me.” It begins on an oil rig in the Gulf, where cultivated roughneck Dawson (James Marsden) spends his downtime reading Stephen Hawking’s “The Grand Design.” An explosion interrupts his ponderings of the universe, blowing him into the sea, where he has a luminous vision of a beautiful young woman walking in a rose garden.


He wakes up in a hospital bed, informed by the doctor that he has miraculously survived what should have been a fatal fall followed by four hours submerged unconscious in the water. Surely he has been saved for a reason, Dawson speculates, forgetting — apparently — the cold cosmological rationalism expressed in the book he had been reading.

Just as the explosion was rocking Dawson’s world, we see Amanda (Michelle Monaghan — a beautiful woman, though not as young as the girl of the vision) telling her son that people have long believed that the stars foretell one’s destiny. Abruptly she looks up, startled. It’s almost as if she sees the disaster happening far away at sea.

Could these incidents be related? Stranger things have happened (just check out the 2012 adaptation of Sparks’s “The Lucky One”). But that’s just for starters. Unbeknownst to each other, both Amanda and Dawson have been summoned by a lawyer representing the estate of the recently deceased Tuck (Gerald McRaney). They show up at the lawyer’s office, and it’s the first time they have met since 21 years before, when Amanda (Liana Liberato) was the blithe girl in the garden, and young Dawson (Luke Bracey) was the abused son of a sociopathic father (Sean Bridgers) living in a squalid shack with a family of criminal scumbags. And yet, destiny brings them together, and they fall in love, until destiny (and poor anger management skills) drive them apart again.


Hoffman bounces back and forth across the decades between narratives, the one in the past a combination of David Gordon Green’s “Joe” and the awful recent remake of “Endless Love,” the one in the present another in the recent trend of films about disastrous marriages (“Gone Girl,” “Addicted,” “This Is Where I Leave You,” “No Good Deed,” etc.), partially redeemed by Bridgers’s performance as the worst father who ever lived.

Given all its fake fatalism, how will “Best” fare at the box office? Destiny, in the form of Hollywood’s genius at marketing tripe, will decide.


Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.