Synopsis: A Marine travels to North Carolina after serving three tours in Iraq and searches for the unknown woman he believes was his good luck charm during the war.
Stars: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner
Director: Scott Hicks
Running Length: 101 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Teasing Boy ~ Cole Jackson
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: By now, there is a formula to a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Add one Hollywood hunk and one earthy female to a southern hamlet (preferably one of the Carolinas), toss in a hidden secret and stir. Bring the two leads together by spending the first hour keeping them apart and then bask in the glow that their love emanates. Don’t forget to kill someone off before the end of the picture and you have a Sparks Soufflé ready to consume.
The Lucky One is the latest page-to-screen adaptation of a Sparks tome and if it ultimately goes down as one of the better films to be made from his material there are more than a few bumps along the way. The central conceit of the film hinges on a BIG SECRET that a) isn’t all that big and b) if revealed would have made the movie ten minutes long. It’s a rare movie that can take this BIG SECRET angle and not stumble…in fact, I don’t remember one in recent memory that made it work.
Logan is a marine returning from Afghanistan with another mission to accomplish: track down the woman in a picture he found in the rubble he feels protected him. Feeling uneasy in his home surroundings he walks (yes, walks) from Colorado to North Carolina to find the picture lady because evidentially taking the MegaBus wouldn’t look good on film. When he arrives he quickly locates Beth (Schilling) and instead of telling her what he crossed numerous states to say, he instead clams up and decides it’s better to work for her dog kennel business, buddy up with her son, charm her Grandma (Danner), and stare down her menacing ex (Ferguson). Unfortunately, one viewing of the trailer tells you all this and more so best to turn the channel if you are planning on seeing it.
Touted as a departure from the teen fare Efron is known for, I’d say that Efron faces an uphill battle by tackling a role of a troubled Marine. His demons are never really explored…the movie seems to indicate the only thing that has haunted him from the war is not being able to get back and find the woman in the picture sooner. That gives a bit of short shrift to the wartime experience but war is really not the focus of the film.
Efron and Schilling do create some sparks between them and they seem to be mostly well matched. He has the lazy, squinty, smoldering eyes to her wide saucer peepers…although maybe he just squints because her teeth are almost cartoonishly white. While Schilling has an elegant beauty (I could see Meg Ryan playing this part had it been made in 1992) her Beth never meets a pair of short shorts or gauzy cotton shirts/dresses she can’t wiggle herself into. Although to be fair most everyone in the audience was waiting for Efron to wiggle out of his shirt and pants. When the two finally do couple it’s the most mature section of the movie and feels a bit out of place.
I saw the film as one with peaks and valleys. Right when you think it’s going off the tracks it rights itself but then quickly veers dangerously close to parody again. There’s a scene between Beth and Logan in her garden that seems to have been excised from a different movie entirely. While I wasn’t totally sold on Efron’s performance I wouldn’t say the movie is poorly acted. It’s a good looking film that benefits greatly from its casual North Carolina setting that makes nearly every movie filmed there look good.
Music plays a big role in this here film and for my money director Hicks (Shine, No Reservations) adds 2 too many montages set to a light indie rock score. Was there no other way to show that time passes and things get accomplished than to pull out some Brandi Carlile?
Providing good support to our two glassy eyed leads is Ferguson as her ex, managing to turn a stock character into one with a little bit of depth and an arc. It’s not Shakespeare but it easily could have been a one-note role that Ferguson instead breathes some life in…keep your eyes on him during a church scene…an entire subplot is told just in his face. Danner is one of the lovelier ‘women-of-a-certain-age’ in Hollywood and instills the right amount of humor and warmth that she needs to pass on to her real-life daughter Gwyneth Paltrow. (By the way and for the record, I’ve met Danner and she’s more beautiful in person, if possible)
So, as all Sparks movies do, this one leads up to a tragedy that’s not as big as in some of his previous works. At this point the filmmakers must know that audiences unfamiliar with the book but familiar with Sparks will expect this so it almost seemed to me they tried to throw us off base as to who the reaper would be coming for. While the very first line of one character practically screams “I’m-a gonna be dead by the time the credits roll!” you’ll probably not figure out how the movie will tie itself up. I think they cheated a bit but all is fair in love, war, and Sparks.
At the end of the day it’s not a totally wasted time in the movie theater for a romantic drama (like February’s awful The Vow) because there’s no denying the chemistry of the leads, the easy-going flow of the film, or the genial harmlessness of it all.