The Lucky One

Nicholas Sparks meets Zac Efron

The Lucky One

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Directed by Scott Hicks. Starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Adam LeFevre, Riley Thomas Stewart, Joe Chrest, Robert Hayes. Written by Will Fetters, from the novel by Nicholas Sparks.

Grade-A schmaltz, as you’d expect from a Nicolas Sparks adaptation. The Lucky One follows Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John, and The Last Song as Sparks novels to make it to the big screen; if you’ve seen any of those films, you know exactly what to expect here.

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The Lucky One actually changes around some of the details, and fares just about as well as could be expected under the circumstances, though the saccharine is poured on as thick as always. Hollywood has been churning these things out as fast as Sparks can write them, and audiences don’t seem to mind the formula. Hey, if it ain’t broke…

Zac Efron stars as Logan Thibault, a marine serving in Iraq who finds a photograph of a woman amidst some charred wreckage following a nighttime raid. His attempts to find the owner of the photo are fruitless, so he keeps it; after he survives some close encounters, he chalks up his good luck to the mysterious woman in the photo, and vows to locate her when he returns home to give his thanks.

You might expect the film to follow Logan’s presumably difficult task of locating this woman with nothing more than a photo to go on; but no, that would break the formula. Instead, he quickly matches a lighthouse in the background of the photo to a picture on the internet, asks a guy at a bar, and there you go – within the film’s first fifteen minutes, he’s at her door.

The woman is Beth (Taylor Schilling), who lives with her young son (Riley Thomas Stewart) and grandmother (Blythe Danner) in rural Louisiana, running a dog shelter. The premise and this setting is all we need, and when the film sticks to these characters and their relationships, we’re thoroughly satisfied.

But the formula demands artificial conflict, which is delivered in two predictable, and unnecessary, ways: the first is the abusive ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson), who also just happens to be the local sheriff. The second is that old standby in romance movies, the secret that brought the two lovers together, which, when revealed, threatens to drive them apart.

Only here, that ‘secret’ is the touching premise of the lucky photo, which Logan just can’t bring himself to reveal to Beth. This should not in any way drive them apart; indeed, we expect it to bring them closer together, with Beth tearfully embracing Logan when the truth is finally revealed. But the film tries to drum up the conflict regardless, and the artificial climax threatens to drag the whole film down.

Zac Efron may have rose to fame through the High School Musical movies, but he’s impressed me more and more with each successive film (especially Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles). He’s a solid romantic lead in The Lucky One, and perfectly matched by Schilling; the two share some real on-screen chemistry that breaks through some of the film’s artifice.  

Director Scott Hicks made a big splash with the Oscar-nominated Shine back in 1996; that film now seems like an anomaly among his career, which more recently has included the Catharine Zeta-Jones romance No Reservations.

Still, The Lucky One has a lot to like: the two young stars, Danner as the wise grandmother, the autumnal Louisiana setting, Logan’s German Shepherd and the other dogs at the kennel. There’s nothing new here, but more of the same is just what Nicholas Sparks fans have ordered.

Also opening this week:

  • War of the Buttons (showtimes | IMDb), an adaptation of the famed Louis Pergaud novel, previously filmed in 1937, 1862, and 1994. Screening in French with Czech subtitles.
  • Rok konopí (Year of Mari©huana; showtimes), a cannabis-themed documentary, screening in Czech.

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