The Lucky One

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The Lucky One is the latest Nicholas Sparks novel to make it to the big screen, following such heart-tuggers like The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, and most recently, 2010’s Dear John with Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried.

Directed by Scott Hicks (Snow Falling on Cedars, No Reservations, Shine), the latest offering fits perfectly into the Sparksian cinematic repertoire: It features a young, good-looking couple—this time played by Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling—who are kept apart by life’s circumstances.

The film opens with Iraqi war scenes that focus on 24-year-old Sgt. Logan Thibault (Efron), who narrowly escapes insurgent attacks, RPG fire and snipers, while others close to him don’t. He ascribes his luck to a photo—of a woman standing in front of a lighthouse—found on the desert floor. He believes that she’s the reason he makes it out of the war alive.

Logan returns stateside after his third tour of duty, but has trouble re-adjusting to civilian life. Rather than seeking help for his PTSD symptoms and depression, he decides to combat the ennui, inner conflict and restlessness by finding the girl in the photo.

Eventually, Logan finds his talis-woman in Hamden, La., but doesn’t tell her why he’s in town, fearing she’ll think him a crazy stalker. (He is, technically, but that’s besides the point.) Beth Green (Schilling) has misgivings about the stranger applying for a job at her family’s dog kennel; it’s her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) that gives the former marine a chance.

Along the way, we meet Beth’s precocious, chess- and violin-playing son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and her ne’er-do-well ex-husband, who happens to be a good-ole-boy sheriff in town. Guess which of the two doesn’t take a shine to the mysterious stranger?

There are a number of similarities to previous films based on Sparks’ novels. It’s a given that a love story is the heart of his books, but we couldn’t help but think about Dear John and the role the Iraq war plays in each film. As we watch Logan renovate a fixer-upper and tickle the ivories on a neglected piano, we’re reminded of Ryan Gosling’s character in The Notebook. And in Message in a Bottle, Robin Wright’s character finds love letters in bottles washing up on shore and tracks down the author of the notes—without revealing the reason why she’s come to town. Sound familiar?

Efron takes on a role that’s a stretch from his teen heartthrob roles in the High School Musical TV movies. He still looks like a kid, but then again, most of the soldiers fighting our wars are kids. His Logan is stoic, but perhaps too much so, as his acting at times comes off as expressionless and one-dimensional. Schilling fares better, but in key scenes, the chemistry between the two leads feels forced.

The Lucky One’s plot becomes unnecessarily muddled with secondary plot twists and turns. One could rattle off a checklist of clichés found in the script: a best friend and a brother killed in war; parents lost in a car crash; domineering fathers and sons who seek their approval; a rescue in the middle of a raging storm; good-ol’ boy law enforcement; and, of course, lovers who are destined to be together.

Though underutilized, Blythe Danner commands the screen, and her young co-stars would be wise to watch how she does it. We liked the banter in scenes where she teases Beth about her growing attraction to Logan; in some ways, that pairing worked better than the Logan-Beth relationship.

Though we’re loathe to use the term, The Lucky One falls into the “chick flick” category. Efron and Schilling are a toothsome couple to watch, but unfortunately, this film will only appeal to those on date night or diehard Sparks fans.

Director: Scott Hicks
Writers: Will Fetters, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks
Starring: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Riley Thomas Stewart, Jay R. Ferguson
Release Date: Apr. 20, 2012