Do you ever think about your first love? Do you wonder what would happen if you saw each other again all these years later?
That's the premise behind The Best Of Me, the new movie based on Nicholas Sparks' bestselling book.
The author of tearjerkers like The Notebook and Message In A Bottle, Sparks is known for manipulating our emotions so much that sniffing sounds from the audience often blend in with the movie soundtrack.
This time around, Sparks returns to a favorite theme: first love and second chances. Amanda and Dawson are high school sweethearts from very different worlds. Amanda is privileged and has every opportunity available to her. Dawson's family is a scary group of uneducated, alcohol-fueled thugs who communicate with their fists. Although Dawson is the black sheep who yearns to escape from the pack and attend college, his dad and brothers are determined to keep him in his place.
A series of events separates the couple for 20 years, during which they build their own lives. When they are unexpectedly reunited at the funeral of an old friend, their feelings for each other are rekindled and they are forced to consider the past, present and future.
Will they get back together? Will they live happily ever after? You may think you know the answers but, remember, this is a Nicholas Sparks movie. That means twists and turns and tears that don't just come from joy.
Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden play the modern-day Amanda and Dawson, with Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato portraying them as teenagers. There's great chemistry between both couples and, what was most surprising to me at this stage of my life, was that I could relate most to the young ones.
They brought me right back to the days my husband and I first met in college 35 years ago. Bracey and Liberato capture the totality and nesting of young love – a magical time when the rest of the world just seems to slip out of view – along with the awe that comes from meeting someone who actually "gets" you.
I got a chance to talk to Nicholas Sparks, who explained how he sees the different stages of life. "I was in my 40s when I wrote The Best Of Me," he said, "and I think that's a very interesting period of peoples' lives. In your 20s, you believe your dreams can come true. You'll meet the right person, or you'll be famous, or whatever your dreams are. As you go through your 30s, part of you just knows you've still got a shot. Well, in your 50s, 60s and 70s, you kind of reach a point where you look back and say, 'Well, I'm never going to be an astronaut. I think I've now passed the NASA retirement age.'"
As boomers, I'm convinced we've still got that shot. And that idea – that maybe we really can get a do-over on the things we missed or messed up the first time – is what made The Best Of Me interesting to me.
So, yes, it's a little sappy and, yes, it's signature Sparks, but it's also a guilty pleasure that can be enjoyed solo, with a loved one or on a girls' night out.
And if you're not crazy about the ending, I have good news for you. According to Sparks, the Blu-ray will come with alternate endings so you can choose the one you want.
Oh, if we could only do that with life.
Lois Alter Mark blogs at Midlife at the Oasis and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post. She is the reigning champion of Blogger Idol and was recently named Humor Writer of the Month by Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. Lois won BlogHer Voices of the Year Awards in 2012 and 2013, and writes regularly on pop culture and travel. Because of her blog, Oprah Winfrey selected her as an Ultimate Viewer and took her to Australia on the trip of a lifetime. A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, she was the Flicks for Kids editor at NickJr.com and a contributing writer for Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade. Transplanted New Yorkers, Lois and her husband of 32 years now live in San Diego, where they have turned into weather wimps and complain about the pizza. Their grown kids are, of course, both on the East Coast. You can follow Lois on Facebook or Twitter.