The Lucky One
What can you say about a movie based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks? It’s like eating a pepperoni pizza from Dominos. You know exactly what you’re going to get and you order it for that very reason. So if you walk into the latest Sparks’ film adaptation "The Lucky One" expecting something profound or new, then you must never eat pizza.
"The Lucky One" is a simple story about a Marine named Logan (Zac Efron) who survives an explosion in Iraq after being distracted by a photo he sees lying in the middle of a war zone. He moves to pick it up only to find it is of a beautiful woman. Seconds later, the spot where he was standing is blown to smithereens. Thinking the picture gives him good luck, he keeps it with him while also trying to find its owner. Eight months later - having never found the picture’s owner or whose picture it is - he is soon sent home after surviving a second blast.
But home is not an easy place. In the matter of three minutes he moves in with his sister and her two boys only to have so much post-traumatic stress he puts one of the kids in fake movie danger. Feeling like he has to figure his life out, he leaves and goes on a quest (with his trusty German Shepherd Zeus) to find the girl in the picture. With the lighthouse in the background as his only guide, somehow - as if by Sparks’ magic - he finds out it’s in North Carolina and walks - yes, WALKS - from Colorado to the small town where the lighthouse rests. (Now it’s completely plausible that the girl in the picture was simply on vacation there, but this is a Nicholas Sparks story so things are generally very "easy" for the characters.)
When Logan finally finds the girl, he discovers her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling). She’s not only a former grammar school teacher, but also runs a doggy day care/clinic. It’s unclear which of these vocations is her passion - the doggy day care or teaching - but both can be checked off the "cute" list and thus, they will appear in a Sparks’ story.
Logan, of course, tries to tell Beth why he’s there but "can’t find the words." Really? "Hey, I found this picture of you and it saved my life so I wanted to thank you and also return it."
It doesn’t really seem that difficult, but every time he starts to tell the story, he balks and she brushes it off as if he was about to tell her what he ate for lunch. "It’s okay, just tell me when you remember." It’s all very manipulative and odd. Clearly the two will fall in love under the watchful and smirky gaze of Beth’s grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner), Beth’s precocious son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and her mean ole’ ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson). But once they fall in love, will he finally tell her why he’s there? And what will her reaction be? Because we know it will be bad so there can be some fake fighting and melodramatic reuniting. But let’s get real: if some stud like Efron came to me and said my picture saved his life and he had to find me, I’d have him naked and in my bed faster than you can say "you’re welcome."
But again... it’s Sparks.
The problem with the film is the simple fact that its source material was constructed to be a crowd-pleaser with a magical laundry list of things Sparks includes to make sure he warms the hearts of women readers everywhere. Just for fun, I will list them. Ready?
There is the hot lead whose perfect body is lit in dappled sunlight showing off each and every curve of his back and arms. He is also such a dream he can fix anything (houses, boats, tractors), is an expert at training dogs (without ever having any training), and surprise- surprise he can even play the piano. I mean, what CAN’T this guy do? If that weren’t enough, we have the pretty white girl with great clothes, a charming old farm house, the likeable and feisty old grandma (she gets drunk!), the "cute kid" who is not only a master of chess, but he can do magic tricks, has a tree house (oh, that tree house!), and plays the violin for which he is bullied. ("Awww.") There is a charming town picnic, a local band with a little person lead singer, and even a random shot of a boy with Down Syndrome hugging a puppy. For real.
Don’t get me wrong, the film - as directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine") - is gorgeously shot and has wonderful production design. I really liked Taylor Schilling, and let’s face it, Blythe Danner can do no wrong. Sadly, Efron doesn’t fare as well, mostly because he’s practically mute from his experiences in Iraq, so he plays the part in monotone. He flashes his gorgeous eyes and walks a lot, which Hicks likes to show us ad-nauseum (or to pad the film to get it to its hour and forty minute running time).
The fact of the matter is that there isn’t a real moment in the film. Scenes are awkwardly expository and exist just to get the actors to talk more and more about their past in monologues that aren’t particularly interesting. When Beth talks about her bad marriage, getting pregnant too young, and losing her brother in the war, she adds that her parents were killed in a car crash. Of course they were.
"The Lucky One" is a just an amalgamation of clichés that feel stolen from 101 Lifetime Movies - just with A-ish list actors and better lighting. That said, easily impressed audiences will fall for this tale of two lovers who meet by fate. For the rest of us, we will watch with bemused grins as moment after moment adds more and more banalities to a simplistic story with a one-dimensional emotional landscape.
The Lucky One
Logan Thibault :: Zac Efron
Beth :: Taylor Schilling
Ellie :: Blythe Danner
Ben :: Riley Stewart
Keith Clayton :: Jay R. Ferguson
Judge Clayton :: Adam LeFevre
Victor :: Robert Hayes
Deputy Moore :: Joe Chrest
Roger Lyle :: Russ Comegys
Principal Miller :: Sharon Morris
Charlotte Clayton :: Ann McKenzie
Aces :: Kendal Tuttle
Younger Marine :: Cameron Banfield
Cottage Owner :: Ritchie Montgomery
Director, Scott Hicks; Screenwriter, Will Fetters; Producer, Denise Di Novi; Producer, Kevin McCormick; Executive Producer, Ravi Mehta; Executive Producer, Alison Greenspan; Executive Producer, Bruce Berman; Cinematographer, Alar Kivilo; Film Editor, Scott Gray; Production Design, Barbara Ling; Original Music, Mark Isham; Costume Designer, Dayna Pink; Casting, Ronna Kress; Art Director, Paul Kelly; Set Decoration, Kathy Lucas.