Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) is an U.S. Marine Sergeant who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and despite some very close calls came out of it unscathed. He thinks he owes it to some sort of a guardian angel. In his case that’d be the photograph of a woman with the words “Keep safe” inscribed on its back. Found in a pile of rubble after a night raid gone awry and unable to find its owner, he always carried the photo with him. Once back home, he sets out to find the girl on the picture. Going by the single visual clue on the photo (a lighthouse), he can fairly quickly locate the small town in Louisiana where the girl in question is from. Needless to mention that the movie devotes absolutely no screentime to the actual search for the girl. It was either lost in the editing process or just deliberately glossed over (given the unlikeliness of such an undertaking).
Once he arrives in Louisiana with his German shepherd Zeus (travelling by foot all the way from Colorado as an apparent method of self-therapy), he quickly finds his guardian angel, Beth (Taylor Shilling). Beth is a young, pretty and recently divorced single mother, still struggling over the custody with her drinking cop ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson) and suffering after the effects of her brother’s untimely death as a soldier in Iraq (remember that photo…?). Beth lives with her son Ben and her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner). The complete absence of her parents is apparently mentioned in one scene, but apparently carries so little emotional weight that neither me nor the journalist colleagues I have seen it with could remember anything about that. The two run a kennel and are conveniently looking for a handyman. Logan takes the job, but for some unexplained reason is unable to tell the truth. As the slow romance between Beth and Logan starts to bloom, Logan’s unnecessary secret might endanger their relationship.
The Lucky One is an adaptation of the same-titled novel by Nicholas Sparks and let’s face it – to say that the plot sounds derivative and predictable would be a gross understatement. In fact, the Nicholas Sparks adaptations released to date usually have the originality of the Saw sequels. They are every single bit as formulaic. Starting with Message in a Bottle, going over The Notebook and all the way to the Miley Cyrus starrer The Last Song and The Lucky One all of them follow the same structure. An unlikely couple falls in love against all odds and despite some issues harbored by one or both of the romantic partners. The issues escalate and the couple is separated by a conflict. At the end someone always dies and tears are shed. This is the very same structure that each of the six Nicholas Sparks adaptations prior to The Lucky One have followed. The Scott Hicks-directed film has no ambitions to deviate from the proven formula either as the films usually prove to be box-office success stories, always luring in the female demographics with the promise of a tragic and yet wholly truthful love story for ages.
That is not to say that none of those films work. There is a reason why The Notebook has become the major modern romance classic that many referred to when asked about a good romantic drama. What it lacked in originality, it made up with a great cast (Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner, Gena Rowlands and Joan Allen) and a terrific sizzling chemistry between its leads. A Walk to Remember, while not on the same level and terrible clichéd still offered some real heartfelt tragedy and very likable leads. The majority of these movies however just recycle the same ingredients over and over. It’s not only that The Lucky One doesn’t attempt to add anything new or to add some nuances to the simple plot, but it doesn’t even bother with developing a believable chemistry between the two romantic leads. Sure, Beth is likable and pretty enough and Loan is an absolute do-gooder who is good with dogs, kids and could be the cover guy for Men’s Health. Afterall, Beth seems to have an orgasm while washing dishes just by watching him lift bags of dog food. There is, however, no spark between the two, no matter how much the filmmaking team tries to infuse the film with every single visual romantic cliché known. There are countless scenes of glowing sunsets, sunlit bedrooms and sunbeams illuminating our leads through the windowpanes as they consummate their relationship at last. You gets a romantic outdoor show scene, romantic rowing on a pond. There is a certain overdose of these elements to the point that it just becomes a caricature of a romance. Zac Efron, Disney’s past poster boy, has certainly matured a bit and is not as bad of an actor as some might assume. He managed to escape the New Year’s Eve mess mostly unscathed and was decent in 17 Again, but he does himself no favors with this movie. Then again, it must be nearly impossible to convincingly deliver dialogue lines like “You should be kissed, every day, every hour, every minute”. Just like in the 2010 Sparks adaptation Dear John, it is up to a veteran actor (or actress) in this case to deliver the films strongest turn – Blythe Danner. However, her role is mostly throwaway stuff.
Probably the greatest contrast to The Notebook is the character of Keith, Beth’s abusive ex-husband. Whereas the James Marsden character in The Notebook was a perfectly great match for Rachel McAdams and a likable persona, making the conflict undeniably stronger, Ferguson’s character is nothing but a clichéd jerk and a bully to whom the righteous Logan stands up. In one of the film’s scene Logan says to him:”You’re not a bad guy, Keith”, clearly an attempt to somehow finally humanize his character. The attempt, though, is in vain because nothing preceding that scene actually justifies that claim. Keith is a romantic drama antagonist through and through with pretty much no redeemable qualities. When the sappy melodrama of the final act hits then and the film finds its way to a typical Nicholas Sparks finish, it is just difficult for any emotions to be evoked. Certainly the target group of 12-16 year old swooning female Zac Efron fans will still derive enough enjoyment from this (he does take has shirt off a few times). To everyone else The Lucky One will be nothing more than yet just another romance following the blueprint laid out for out by countless movies before.