Faithful readers will know that film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I enjoy a good romance as much as the next person, but I’ve found his particular style to be predictable, soppy, and emotionally manipulative. With that in mind, I find myself in the position of reviewing his newest adaptation, The Lucky One. While hardly recommendable, it is admittedly better than I thought it was going to be. It has all the reliable hallmarks of a Nicholas Sparks story – a Southern setting, a sudden love between perfect strangers, characters with troubled histories, outside forces that threaten the blossoming relationship, a sentimental conclusion – and yet it worked just a little harder at allowing me to see past its contrivances. It wasn’t hard enough, but progress is progress.
It begins in Iraq, where a U.S. marine named Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) is on his third tour of duty. The night after an ambush, he spots something gleaming in a pile of rubble. It’s a photo of a young woman. When it’s determined that it belongs to none of the surviving soldiers, Logan claims it as his own, carrying it around with him for the next seven months. He has no idea who the woman is, but it seems she’s keeping him alive while others around him die. In a sudden flash, we see him back at home in Colorado, where it’s clear he has a touch of PTSD. He reunites with his sister and nephews, finds he can relate to none of them, and decides to track down the woman in the photo so that he can thank her. A distinct lighthouse in the background is just enough for him to discover that she lives in Louisiana.
And so, with his dog by his side, he journeys from one state to the other. The astounding thing is that he walks the entire way. At no point does the film make clear how long the journey takes, and it never explains how he had the means to rest at night and feed both himself and his dog. Never mind; his travelling is conveniently summed up with a few simple shots edited together in a brief montage. His destination in Louisiana is a family-run dog kennel/training school. It’s here that he finally meets the woman in the photo. Her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling), a former full-time elementary school teacher and a single mom. She lives with her grandmother (Blythe Danner), who, despite having suffered a minor stroke, can always be counted on to educate young people with her years of wisdom.
Through a series of verbal misunderstandings, Logan doesn’t get the chance to tell Beth why he’s really there. She believes he’s responding to her want ad for help. She initially doesn’t trust him, and indeed, how can you trust a man that walked all the way from Colorado to Louisiana? Her grandmother, on the other hand, is far more accommodating and hires him on the spot. He proves himself to be an incredibly diligent worker. “Does he have an off button?” Beth asks disapprovingly. “I hope not,” her grandmother responds playfully. In due time, Logan befriends Beth’s son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart) and makes an enemy out of Beth’s ex-husband, a cop named Keith (Jay R. Ferguson). Hot-headed, jealous, controlling, and possessive, Keith might as well have been named Rick with a silent P.
I’m aware that movies like this exist primarily for entertainment, so I won’t bother pointing out how unlikely it is that Logan and Beth could fall in love under these particular set of circumstances – or at all, for that matter. But inevitably, they fall head over heels for each other. This is despite the fact Logan has yet to spill the beans about the photo, which we eventually learn belonged to Beth’s brother, a marine who died a year earlier while serving in Iraq. Apart from the fact that the two were close growing up due to the untimely deaths of their parents, what really tortures Beth is the fact that her brother might have died as the result of friendly fire. The investigation is ongoing. Is it possible that Logan knows what really happened?
A few incidental subplots work their way into the story, including Ben’s reluctance to play the violin, Keith’s wealthy father running for mayor, and Beth’s grandmother being a part of a gospel choir. We also see Ben trying to please his father, who’s such a manly man that he actively discourages weak activities like music and birthday parties. I’ll never understand how it is Ben can feel anything for his father at all, but I guess that’s just another one of those contrivances I’ll have to tolerate. All leads to a rather mechanical (yet somehow appropriate) confrontation that involves a sudden rainstorm, a raging river, a rickety wooden bridge, and a shaky tree house jutting perilously from a limb. Although The Lucky One is not edifying, I recognize that it fills a need. Believe you me, it will fill it nicely.
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Warner Bros. Pictures