Some things just go together. Like LeBron and Cleveland. Combustion engines and grease. Bacon and cholesterol medicine.
Amanda and Dawson are, it would seem, two of those things. At least they were. Back in the day, when there had been just one Iraq War and grunge was still cool, the two were sweet on each other. Never mind that they hailed from two different Breakfast Club stereotypes—she a pretty rich thing, he a roughhewn kid from the town's "white trash" side. They loved each other with a passion and verve typically only found in Nicholas Sparks books.
But then disaster struck. The two Southern lovers were ripped apart as their lives were thrown to the bitter wind of circumstance. She went on to Tulane University, got pregnant and settled down as a dutiful wife and affectionate mother. He eventually landed on an oil rig, doing whatever it is roughhewn roughnecks do on oil rigs.
But then disaster struck. Dawson's oil rig exploded one night, sending flying debris everywhere and chucking him right into the icy ocean 100 feet blow. He could've died. "The fall alone should've killed you," his doctor cheerfully tells him. But he didn't. And he wonders whether he owes his survival, in some mystical way, to Amanda: When he was bobbing around in the cold, cold water for a few hours, he had a vision of the girl he loved so long ago, the girl he'd not seen for 21 years.
But then disaster struck. Tuck, a mutual friend of Dawson and Amanda, dies—mentioning both of the one-time lovebirds in his will. Seems they're to pack up his house (taking whatever they want) and spread his ashes in Tuck's beloved garden. And by doing so, perhaps reacquaint themselves with each other. Heal old wounds. Patch old fences. Maybe remember why they once went together so well—just like pockets and lint.
When someone's car breaks down, Dawson fixes it. When Tuck needs a hand in the garden, Dawson turns a spade. And when he and Amanda are anywhere near a rose bush, he will always, always pluck one of its flowers and give it to his favorite girl. He doesn't always do the right thing (he crowds in on a guy's wife, after all) but his heart does ultimately end up in the right place.
Amanda is just as nice. She encourages Dawson to go to college. She stood by her beau back in the day. Meanwhile, Tuck has been a great friend to them both. He gives Dawson a place to sleep when the guy runs away from his abusive family. He defends Dawson when his slimy pops tries to take the boy back home. And even when he dies, Tuck is still thinking of others—donating his entire estate (minus what Dawson and Amanda would like to keep) to a children's cancer fund that's deeply important to Amanda.
There's a mystical sense of meaning fused to this story—the idea of a plan behind all the randomness we see. Dawson, for example, begins to ponder that plan after he's blown off the oil rig. "I stared wondering if there was a purpose, even if I couldn't see it," he tells us. And Tuck tells him, "You were meant to be here." Throughout, the movie seems to be encouraging us to see some sort of divine hand in Dawson and Amanda's relationship. (We hear about how cultures have sought their destiny in the stars—musings interspersed with Dawson and Amanda both looking intently upwards at the twinkling canopy.)
Tuck has his own metaphysical story to relate. He recalls how he was blown from his ship during World War II and, despite his injuries, began to sing the Irving Berlin song "What'll I Do" as he floated in the water—somehow knowing he'd be OK. Later, when he made it home, Tuck heard his wife humming that same song, which came to her that very same day thousands of miles away.
Dawson's best friend Bobby talks about giving a baby a Bible name. Tuck expresses a belief that he and his wife will reunite in heaven. A funeral is presided over by a priest.
As teens, Dawson and Amanda have sex. She sneaks into a room and sits naked underneath a blanket (exposing her shoulders, cleavage and legs). It's implied that he pulls off the towel he's wearing. (We don't see underneath it.) The two kiss and lie in bed, caressing and moving suggestively. (Amanda's bare breasts are hidden from the camera by Dawson's arm.)
Two decades later, Dawson and Amanda (who is now married to someone else, remember) have sex again. She slips off her dress (we see her panties and the side of her exposed breast), and the two go at it on the same bed they used the first time. Again there are sexual movements and sensual shots. Later, the two jump into a swimming hole wearing very little. (It's obvious Amanda's not wearing a bra under her soaked T-shirt.)
[Spoiler Warning] Neither regret this out-of-wedlock encounter. Amanda seems to feel no real guilt about cheating on her husband. She merely tells him she's just spent time with a guy she still loves (maybe in part to push their relationship toward divorce).
We see Dawson's father, Tommy, with a woman straddling his lap. Dawson will use any excuse, it seems, to take off his shirt. Amanda wears dresses that reveal much of her back (and, again, the fact that she doesn't wear a bra). Amanda's son talks about going to the beach to see what the girls "might or might not" be wearing. Sex results in pregnancy for Bobby and his girlfriend, April.
Tommy hits Dawson repeatedly in the face on one occasion and then pummels him again (causing a bloody nose) as "encouragement" to come home. Later, the two wrestle on the ground, punching and grabbing and choking each other. Dawson shows Amanda some of the scars his father inflicted.
Tuck runs afoul of Tommy and his extended clan when he runs them off with a rifle—shooting up Tommy's truck and sending a bullet speeding past Tommy's fingers (to keep him from plucking one of his late wife's flowers). Wreaking revenge, Tommy and Co. smash Tuck's face repeatedly (leaving a bleeding wound on his forehead) and tear up the garden.
Two men are shot and killed. One is shot in the forehead, a visible entry wound oozing blood. Another is plugged in the chest, blood soaking into the guy's shirt. A third man is shot a couple of times in the leg. A car crash (offscreen) sends someone to the hospital. As mentioned, the oil rig explodes, propelling people through the air and setting one worker on fire. Someone's (occupied) truck is nearly pushed into the path of a train.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters drink wine and beer frequently. Amanda's husband drinks to excess. (He asks his son to fetch him a beer, swigs from a flask as he pulls out of a driveway and staggers into a hospital.) Amanda says that when their daughter died, both of them started drinking too much. "I quit," she says. "He never did." Amanda's father gives a young Dawson a slug of whiskey in a shot glass. (Dawson downs it in a gulp and smashes the glass on the floor.) Amanda cautions her son about getting into a car when the driver has been drinking.
It's suggested that Tommy and his family are involved in making drugs. And when Dawson's young, Tommy says he wants the boy to go with him on a "delivery."
Near the end of The Best of Me, Amanda shows just how torn she is between her wifely duty and her desire to be with Dawson. "I have to go back," she cries, "But I don't know how I'm going to say goodbye to you!"
I think it might've been easier had she not slept with the guy.
All romances, I suppose, encourage you to root for its two protagonists to get together, often against stacked odds—economic conditions or temporal circumstances or resistant families. This flick gangs up all three, adding an alcoholic jerk of a husband to boot. And then it even goes one step further, saying that Amanda and Dawson's love is a product of some sort of mystically divine manifest destiny. Some unseen hand pushed them toward each other and, apparently, practically forced them to fall into bed together, forsaking whatever commitments they might've already made to other parties.
Listen, I don't have anything against Dawson and Amanda. They do seem like a nice couple. But the underlying message here is a little scary. And the fact that Amanda and Frank could use some serious marriage counseling in no way gives her license to sleep with an old beau.
Based on a book written by Nicholas Sparks, The Best of Me is a sexually charged, overwrought romantic fantasy, and I think most audiences will see it that way. The screening I attended was filled with college sorority girls who chuckled whenever Dawson plucked yet another rose for Amanda. And yet whimsies like this can be corrosive by elevating fickle emotion above somber commitment. And for some moviegoers—those who may have a wistful relationship or two in their own rear-view mirrors—the movie may crack open the door to exploring a potentially damaging question: What if?