Take tissues to The Best of Me, I’d read, as it’s such a weepie, so I took tissues, being a weeper at weepies — I still dab my eyes whenever I even think about War Horse — but it was rubbish advice. You don’t need tissues for this film. Instead, you need to line up several triple espressos, as many cans of Red Bull as you can reasonably manage, two matchsticks (one for each eye, obviously), replacement matchsticks for when the weight of your eyelids proves too much and they snap, plus a small hammer to knock yourself in the side of your head when you find yourself bored out of your mind and dropping off anyhow. Actually, this may be rather unfair, as I did laugh inappropriately on a few occasions, so I must have been slightly awake for some of it.
This is based on the bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks, master of the romantic blockbuster, which should have been our first clue, right there, but I was too dumb to clock that The Notebook and Dear John were also based on his books until it was too late. This tells the story of Dawson and Amanda, high-school sweethearts who are reunited after 21 years when they return to their Louisiana hometown for the funeral of the old friend. (‘You never forget your first love,’ is the tagline, even though I’ve completely forgotten mine; David?; Tom?; Stu?). The stars are James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan. I’m not much aware of their work but, from this, would say it’s the sort of casting that happens when you can’t get Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock and have to keep working your way down the list. Their younger, teenage selves, meanwhile, are played by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, who look nothing like them. Totally different builds, I can take, as our builds do change as we age. (I am quite fat now, for example.) Totally different noses I can take, at a push. But not even the same eye-colour? I noticed this even though I was only slightly awake. If I’d been fully awake, I’d have probably screamed.
It takes place in two time zones, now and back then, and in the now Dawson works on an oil rig, but is obviously clever, because at night he sits high on the rig, under the stars, while reading Stephen Hawking. We know it is Stephen Hawking because the cover of his book says: ‘BY STEPHEN HAWKING’. Meanwhile, Amanda is happily married to a lovely man and has experienced no adult disappointments so that’s all right. Joke! Her husband’s an uncaring workaholic and a bit of a bastard, as it happens. It may even be enough to make a girl think of her first love, if she hasn’t forgotten him. (Laurence?; Mark?) So Dawson and Amanda return to their hometown, and we flash back to the past, where we see he was always clever, and read books about physics with ‘PHYSICS’ on the cover, but even though he and Amanda fell in love, he wasn’t good enough because she is from a rich family while he is from the wrong side of the tracks. That is, a family of psychopathic hillbillies who come out of the woods like a heavy metal band gone bananas. (Think Metallica with worse hair, worse teeth and guns; I believe I may have laughed inappropriately at this point.)
Look, do we really want to waste any more time on this? When I, for one, could be doing something more useful, like looking at funny dog videos on YouTube? So I’ll keep it short, and just say that our old friend, No Sexual Chemistry, makes an appearance, while the characters are generic, the script is bland — ‘I like smart guys who haven’t had it handed to them,’ she says, having spotted he is reading ‘PHYSICS’ — and it introduces so many subplots it requires 546 final acts. ‘Hurrah,’ you think, shooting awake, ‘we can all go home now.’ But, no, here comes yet another final act. And another. Those matches I was talking about earlier. Take the box.
And now on to Northern Soul, a first film by the photographer Elaine Constantine, which constructs a drama around the dance culture that took the north of England by storm in the early 1970s. A DJ-led movement, it was started by the popularity of black American soul music, particularly focusing on rare gems released on obscure labels. It’s billed as starring Ricky Tomlinson, Steve Coogan and Lisa Stansfield, but you can safely ignore that, as their combined screen time doesn’t add up to more than two minutes. Essentially, we are following two working-class boys (Elliot James Langridge and Josh Whitehouse) as they discover the music, and find release through it, as can happen with birds (Kes) or ballet (Billy Elliot) or disco (Saturday Night Fever). It doesn’t strike me as terrifically original, is what I’m saying.
It also isn’t a film of light and dark. It’s dark and then darker again, with no humour or sense of joy. Even the dancing, which seems to involve shifting from foot to foot while wearing baggy trousers, seems joyless. And eventually it descends into one those standard tales of drink, drugs, violence and getting in way over your head, while we learn the value of true friendship. Still, the music is great, and compared with The Best of Me it may be a masterpiece.
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