Thanks to the unimaginable success of movies like The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, and Dear John, Nicholas Sparks’ drugstore romance novels have become a filmmaking industry, and sadly, it’s something we’ll all have to accept for the time being. They’re unapologetically corny romantic fantasies that don’t even inch towards representing real life, but that basic pandering seems to be what the audience wants. At the screening I attended, there were audible groans and snickers at the most ludicrous scenes and yet somehow the audience also kicked in a round of applause at the end. I can’t say I get it, but they seem to. Then again, I’ll giggle myself silly at the very worst Arnold Schwarzenegger or Nic Cage romp, recognize its trash and love it all the same. Apparently the same thing is going on with these movies. I’m just not in on the secret. Different strokes, I suppose…but that doesn’t mean I can’t still throw out a confused and infuriated, “Whatchu talkin’ bout?” with an optional “Willis.”
The teenage boytoy-slash-acting punching bag of our era Zac Efron stars as a former Marine named Logan (it’s going to get even less believable that that soon) who returns from three tours in Iraq traumatized from all that killing. The only thing that kept him going through the war was a photo of a beautiful woman that served as a good luck charm. He never knew her, the picture came from a battleground, left behind by a fallen solider. He still has the picture and decides to walk across the country to find the woman in that impossibly romantic way that tends to shift cheesy page-turners. He eventually finds Beth (Taylor Schilling), a single schoolteacher working at her mother’s kennel and bringing up a young boy. Her brother died in Iraq and she never recovered from the loss. Logan starts working at the kennel to win Beth’s affections, much to the chagrin of her ex-husband/town sheriff (Jay R. Ferguson). Inevitably love blooms, but Logan just can’t seem to tell the secret of why he ended up there. Eventually she finds out and feelings of frustration and betrayal set in. Can their true love possibly survive? Have you seen the poster? Take a wild fucking guess.
Like all Sparks adaptations, The Lucky One is shot like a shampoo commercial with billowing light seeping in through every window and a radiant sunset timed for every romantic walk, only this time it comes courtesy of Shine director Scott Hicks who you think would know better. It feels like watching a fantasy or dream sequence from the first scene and the characters behave like they’re in one.
No characters are fleshed out; they’re just romance novel archetypes from the wounded beauty and the handsome stranger, to the evil drunken ex and the all-knowing mother. The actors play their roles in a daze, hoping that underplaying every line might somehow make the drivel feel more believable. The movie might have worked a little better if the melodrama was embraced and emotions were pitched to the rafters. In particular, Efron seems to have picked a single pained expression to define his character and sticks with it for every frame of the movie. Even when he tumbles in the sheets with the love of his life, he seems vaguely disinterested with a thousand yard stare. Maybe he was trying to portray a solider unable to express his emotion through post-traumatic stress disorder. Or maybe he’s just a bad actor. It’s probably a little of both.
The bland romantic whimsy of The Lucky One will probably either make you gag or swoon with very few viewers falling in the middle. It can be pretty hard to stomach the absurdist fantasy at times, and there seems to be little chemistry between the leads, but then that’s how I’ve felt about all Nicholas Sparks adaptations and that hasn’t stopped them from being big hits. These vaguely conservative Middle American romantic fantasies clearly appeal to some people, so if you’re one of them, enjoy the cornball fun.