April 18, 2012

Lucky One, The

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Lucky One, The

ROMANCE/DRAMA:

United States, 2012

U.S. Release Date:

2012-04-20

Running Length:

1:41

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Sexual Content, Profanity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Riley Thomas Stewart, Jay R. Ferguson

Director:

Scott Hicks

Screenplay:

Will Fetters, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks

Cinematography:

Alar Kivilo

Music:

Mark Isham, Hal Lindes

U.S. Distributor:

Warner Brothers

Subtitles:

none


A single phrase might be all that's necessary to review The Lucky One: "A Nicholas Sparks movie." Sure, Scott Hicks (Shine) is the director and Will Fetters (Remember Me) gets a screenplay credit, but the average movie-goer who settles into a theater chair to watch this is there because she appreciates Sparks and/or the kinds of books he writes. The Lucky One delivers what's expected from it: a heartfelt romantic melodrama with attractive actors in the lead roles; gauzy, moody photography; a saccharine score; and all the heat that a PG-13 production can muster. There are no surprises here - nor, one suspects, would any member of the target audience welcome such things. Barbara Cartland would be proud.

Sparks-inspired screenplays have resulted in some solidly entertaining movies (Message in a Bottle, The Notebook) and some borderline-unwatchable ones (Nights in Rodanthe). They have attracted their share of respected directors, including Luis Mandoki, Nick Cassavetes, Lasse Hallstrom, and now Scott Hicks. The books are popular beach reads, easily consumed and just as easily forgotten. For the most part, the movies are the same. For what it's worth, The Lucky One is one of the better ones, which is to say that, though it follows a formula, it does a decent job with the core elements that make romantic melodramas compelling.

Logan (Zac Efron) is on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he is nearly killed in an ambush. After surviving, he finds a photograph of a beautiful woman; the picture becomes his good luck charm. When he returns home, he decides to find her. His search proves fruitful at a kennel in Louisiana owned by Beth (Taylor Schilling) and her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner). After meeting Beth, Logan is unable to tell her about the photograph and instead applies for a job at the kennel. Over a period of days and weeks, Beth's initial wariness of him retreats, especially when she sees how good he is with her seven-year old son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart). But Logan is still harboring his secret and Beth's ex-husband, a belligerent cop named Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), is not happy to see a new man in his son's life.

As always, the most important element in a formulaic romance is the connection between the leads. The audience needs to believe in the pair, both as individuals and together. Telling us they're in love is never enough; we have to buy into it. 75% of the time when romances fail, it's because one or both of the protagonists is miscast. Here, that's not the case. Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling are photogenic and their scenes contain the right mix of tenderness and sexual tension. Both understand the importance of a meaningful glance and a come-hither look. A kiss is just a kiss, but when these two are locking lips, they seem like they're into each other rather than counting the number of zeros in front of the decimal point on their paychecks.

Efron continues the march away from tween fare and into more adult material that he began with Me and Orson Welles. Granted, The Lucky One is not Shame, but it's an indication that Efron wants to be taken seriously as an actor. For what it's worth, he's quite good here. I would not have associated him with the squeaky clean, Disneyfied actor from the High School Musical movies, and that's probably what Efron wants. I'm not familiar with Schilling, who apparently is known primarily for a role in a defunct TV series called Mercy. Her performance is a little uneven but more than acceptable. Blythe Danner has the stereotyped role of the elderly woman who sees through all pretenses and offers indispensable advice. Jay R. Ferguson essays the hunky rat bastard role with panache. After only one scene, we want to see this guy ground into the dust.

Ferguson's Keith is The Lucky One's chief annoyance. He's the major bump on the road to happiness for the lovers and, as is often the case, the perceived need for this kind of a villain (to add conflict) creates too many contrived scenes filled with manufactured tension and canned dialogue. Remove Keith from the picture and Logan and Beth would be forced confront the substantive issues that could impact their long-term commitment. Keith serves as a distraction and a crutch; dealing with a twenty-something bully is deemed more dramatically dynamic than wrestling with ghosts and memories. Sparks knows his audience though, and if they want true love triumphing over immature, entitled petulance, that's what he provides.

Still, because the violent ex-husband subplot is largely kept in the background, The Lucky One provides long, lingering opportunities for Logan and Beth to tumble into love and, from there, into bed. (It actually starts in the shower because all good Sparks love scenes must feature lovers kissing while wet.) The central love story is well-constructed for what it is; it offers the requisite amount of fantasy with just a miniscule dollop of realism. It's escapism for women and an adequate date flick. Or, to be more succinct, it's a Nicholas Sparks movie.

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