It was perhaps one of the most crucial moves of his career, but Michael Hoffman’s decision to adapt Nicholas Sparks’ book, The Best of Me, into a film by the same name was driven by his personal life. He had recently undergone a long and difficult divorce. The separation hurt, and he needed a way to live the pain and not brush it under the carpet. So when he got the opportunity to direct a film about two people giving love a second chance, he took it up. “I needed the story more than it needed me. I needed to reaffirm my faith in love,” he says.
Hoffman was in Mumbai last week with his cast to promote the film that released in India on October 31. With James Marsden (known for playing Cyclops in the ‘X-Men’ series) and Michelle Monaghan (Maggie Hart in TV series True Detective) in lead roles, The Best of Me is the latest addition to the list of tear-jerkers based on Sparks’s books. The story follows two high school sweethearts who bump into each other at their friend’s funeral, 20 years after they parted ways. Hoffman promises it has everything the author’s works are known for: romance, chemistry and lots of drama.
The director admits that the process of distilling a popular book into a film isn’t easy, but Sparks’ book offered a greater challenge as it enjoys a large global audience. “The book has its own charm. It follows Dawson and Amanda as love-struck teenagers, then the heartbreak of separation and their reunion. Whereas the film is non-linear,” says Hoffman, who has directed ‘One Fine Day’ (1996) and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (1998).
If Sparks’ books use rom com cliches aplenty — poor boy meets rich girl, a mad and passionate affair, a wise old man and different people figuring out love — Hoffman hasn’t attempted to shake them off in the screen version. “You need to adhere to the DNA of his stories as it’s what people connect with.” So, while the director couldn’t play around the world Sparks created, he took liberties while filling the characters out. “I was once told, the key to making a good love story is that the woman should be Every woman, and the man should be a sex object,” he says, “I’ve tried that. My characters have a Romeo-Juliet feel to them.”
Between his busy schedule, Hoffman found some time to explore Mumbai. He says he’s charmed by the city and its energy. He spent hours wandering the streets of Colaba. He is waiting to visit Haji Ali and trying to make time to see the Elephanta Caves. “I’ve also been told that I shouldn’t miss watching a Hindi film in a theatre,” says the director, who plans to watch ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Haider’.
Bollywood may come calling soon, with a Hindi remake of ‘The Best of Me’ being announced, “for which I will come back to Bombay in March”. But the most fulfilling experience for the American has been watching his own film with an Indian audience, which lapped up the romance and drama. “You make a film for one audience and realise how it transcends boundaries and touches people.”