Director: Scott Hicks
Sadly—or perhaps not—The Lucky One did not instill a need to rectify by neglect of watching or reading author Nicholas Sparks‘ previous works. A romantic drama that falls prey to all the tropes you know and love/hate, the roller coaster ride of emotions it wants to be ends up little more than a gradual slide to the inevitably safe bottom. Not even a pair of lead actors I actually like could save the story from itself. Taylor Schilling‘s Beth is a trite casualty of every stereotypical hardship a woman faces—divorced mother, tragic death of parents, loss of brother in the Marines, lonely and scared to re-enter the world—while Zac Efron‘s Logan proves the performer may not be cut out for the stoic, strong type.
Adapted by Will Fetters and directed by the Oscar-nominated steward of Shine, Scott Hicks, the film tries hard to reign in its over-wrought dialogue by looking nice and warming our hearts. Unfortunately, the central romance is not deserving of such an attempt. Dealing with a twenty-five year old veteran of three tours with the Corps, the crux of the plot hinges on a photo Logan finds in the desert. The morning after an ambush that killed many, his luck is amplified once curiosity leads him to the discarded image seconds before a bomb blasts exactly where he had stood. This keepsake—from who we will soon discover is Beth—becomes his guardian angel of protection despite obviously failing its true owner.
And so begins a surprisingly quick journey on the Internet to find the lighthouse in the photo and thus the city to visit so he can give thanks. Driven at her job, however, she can barely stop talking to let him collect his thoughts before assuming he’s come for a job at the dog kennel she and grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) own. Speechless and emotional, the excuse to stick around to find his words puts pen to paper and a drifter to work after what we can only imagine was an arduous walk from Louisiana to Colorado by an ultra-brief segue forward in time. Contemplative and hardworking, the calming nature of he and dog Zeus will be the perfect medicine to wake both Beth and himself from the doldrums of tragic death that’s followed them far too long.
Details of Beth’s life are uncovered and show just how contrived Sparks’ tale is. I guess ideas of fate and God’s Will are supposed to make us forget this fact. Logan’s similarities to her fallen brother Drake are too much to handle at first, especially with a young son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart) and short-tempered ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson) as background players to her grieving. This trepidation eventually makes its way into flirting, though, and the two form a bond we assume is as strong as the one she possessed with her sibling. Logan becomes a steady hand and a figure of love and compassion to help Ben escape his shell of insecurity and a pillar of strength to fend off the threats and bullying of Keith.
But like all fairy tales, the lingering unspoken cause of our lovers’ union risks derailing everything. The smoking gun here is the photo and the realization that Logan’s arrival to Green Kennels wasn’t as random as Beth thinks. Sparks, Fetters and/or Hicks try to infuse flashes of post-traumatic stress disorder to give us a reason why he still hasn’t told the truth, even going so far as to create earnest monologues about war’s horrors that come off with more parody than empathy. The emotions at play can’t help but ring hollow since the point of the story is love conquering all. Death becomes collateral damage so two people can be happy and I’m not sure I approve of war being treated so trivially.
Character development is almost non-existent as well, but not for lack of trying. If anyone should grow, it’s Ferguson’s Keith. The “Mad Men” actor has a gift of portraying both the bully and the broken soul of a man who lost his family due to aggression and chauvinism. He is given at least three opportunities to evolve into a full-fledged human being—and the performance made me hope he would—but the story still needed one last villainous turn. By the time he finally has the chance for redemption, I simply didn’t care anymore. The story played with me too much and I lost all interest in his small, but integral thread. All we’re left with instead is Schilling’s slow thaw and the precocious, yet welcomingly shy Stewart.
We hope Efron’s Logan finds his way and leaves the war behind too, but the character is stiffly written and inaccessible. Robotic and ultra-calm, brief spells of violence at the start inside his sister’s house don’t find the significance they should when mirrored later on at gunpoint. He’s a good guy who saw horrible things and fell in love. It really is that simple and yet the excess surrounding tries to make The Lucky One appear to be more. After owning a bad film in New Year’s Eve with a standout performance, Efron becomes lost in the artifice of this role as his natural charisma is stifled to serve a weak plot. Any fun or excitement introduced is quickly subdued by the latest tragedy and a cavalier attitude towards death strips each of their importance.
The Lucky One hits wide release on Friday, April 20th.
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