THE MECHANICS AND AESTHETICS of The Best of Me are startlingly similar to pornography: The cinematography is crudely functional. The performances are less about "acting" than about presenting an attractive surface. The stakes are high because Nicholas Sparks says so.

But the liquid currency of this realm is tears—it's a soggy, sodden fantasy of what-might-have-been-if-only: If only Amanda had stood by her high school sweetheart, Dawson (his name is fucking Dawson), instead of marrying her rich mean husband. If only she hadn't had kids. If only she hadn't gotten old.

Much of the film takes place in flashback, a temporal no-man's-land of spliced 'n' diced references signifying old: letterman's jackets and "Whoomp! (There It Is)," landed Southern gentry and The Outsiders. The past is the past is the past, right?

When grown-up Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) reconnects with Dawson (James Marsden) at a friend's funeral, the consequences are foregone: They're gonna bang, and then she's gonna be punished for stepping out of her marriage. Movies like this never settle for happily-ever-after when AND THEN HE DIED! will do. (Spoiler.)

If this is wish fulfillment—gardening, shirtless James Marsden—it makes me sad about women's wishes. You guys know porn exists, right?