Film Review: “The Lucky One”

by Jason LeRoy on April 20, 2012

Taylor Schilling and Zac Efron in THE LUCKY ONE

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

screenplay by: Will Fetters

directed by: Scott Hicks

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence

By the end of Zac Efron’s opening voiceover narration in The Lucky One, heinous hack Nicholas Sparks’ latest assault on the art of storytelling, my eyes had already rolled back into my head Beetlejuice-style and I’d made enough low groaning noises to suggest moderate indigestion. The voiceover, which naturally doesn’t return until the film’s closing moments (the first of many signs this is a film completely disinterested in cliche avoidance), actually opens with, “You never know what moment, no matter how small, will have the power to change your life forever.” Hey, movie: SHOW, DON’T TELL. He goes on to explain how “…sometimes, it’s darkest before the dawn.” But I thought I was the only one who said that! LOL J/K.

Still, something about the title sequence reminded me of The Prince of Tides in a way that briefly cheered me up, with visions of Efron romancing Barbra Streisand while working through some childhood sexual trauma. Then Blythe Danner’s name popped up on the screen just as I was thinking this! She was in that movie! I grabbed my armrests and tried willing Kate Nelligan’s name to appear, but alas, this proved to be the end of my Prince of Tides interlude. However, like that film, The Lucky One has its fair share of melodrama, albeit far less interesting. It seems like Nicholas Sparks’ attempt to write an exceptionally boring, inoffensive Tennessee Williams play.

Efron stars as Logan Thibault (conveniently pronounced Tebow, which I mean COME ON), a U.S. Marine Sergeant who returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq deeply shaken after several near-death experiences. In one of those moments, his life was saved because he bent down to pick up a photo of a young blonde woman. At first he moves back in with his sister and her chaotic family, but after an unintentionally hilarious PTSD sequence, he sets off to find this mystery woman. He accomplishes this, we are intended to believe, merely by noticing a lighthouse in the background of the picture, and then looking at lighthouse pictures online until he finds a match. Are lighthouses like snowflakes? Why do movies do this?

And so, using his peerless lighthouse recognition skills, Logan finds the right one and sets off to find his lucky charm. Her name is Beth (Taylor Schilling, who resembles what it would look like if Diane Kruger and Melrose from ANTM had a baby), and she runs a small-town kennel with her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner). She has a prepubescent son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), but sadly, both for Logan and the film’s integrity, it wasn’t Ben’s father who perished in Iraq and dropped Beth’s photo; that was her brother. No, Ben’s father is Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), a foul-tempered local sheriff from whom Beth is divorced. Keith is where the lobotomized Tennessee Williams really starts to show up; this becomes clear when we meet Keith’s father, a portly southern politician who loudly denigrates Keith in front of his family and might as well be named Big Daddy. If only it was revealed that Keith had trouble fulfilling Beth sexually or made a drunken pass at Logan, it would have completed the Williams effect while simultaneously becoming interesting. But, silly me, this is Nicholas Sparks we’re talking about.

Beth gives Logan a job at the kennel before he can explain why he’s there, despite his best efforts; all he can say is, “I came to find you,” which he continues to say repeatedly throughout the film. Then, when she inevitably finds out the truth (spoiler alert?) and she’s screaming, “You came here to find me?“, I was like, “Um, he has LITERALLY said that to you at least three times.” But before it gets to that point, the two of them slowly blossom into a romance, much to Keith’s stunted inferiority-complex dismay. It begins sweetly, with courtly walks through picaresque Louisiana vistas that look suspiciously like the True Blood set (Beth even keeps a broken-down family boat in what appears to be the swimming hole behind Merlotte’s), before eventually escalating into what passes as steamy (premarital!) sex for a Nicholas Sparks movie. The first such encounter occurs because Logan inexplicably favors washing his hands in an open-air shower, and they later enjoy the kind of billowing white canopy bed tryst that has been forever ruined by The Room. Efron shows a fleeting bit of butt cleavage, but that’s already been rendered obsolete by the semi-nude pictures of him taken on his hotel balcony as part of his “I’m a grown-up and a sexual being” PR tour.

I can see how a Nicholas Sparks movie would seem like a no-brainer to Efron’s team as they attempt to manage his transition to an adult actor, but this is a grievous misstep. Despite his effort to keep his performance understated and coiled, fixing his eyes and mouth tightly and adopting a stiffly lumbering gait, Efron still looks entirely too prettyboyish to be believable in the part. The casting of the robust and barrel-chested Ferguson (Peggy’s design partner Stan on Mad Men) as his rival only underscores his puniness. But it’s not a terrible performance, and he does what he can with the loathsome Sparks material (in one particularly Williams-lite scene, he literally walks downstage from Beth and looks into the middle distance to deliver a monologue about the war while bomb noises play in the distance; we also see that his character is reading Moby Dick, just like Nolte in fucking Warrior, a cliche that really shouldn’t have survived its skewering in Heathers).

Schilling, who is best-known (for those to whom she is known at all) for the TV series Mercy and for playing Dagny Taggart in the much-ballyhooed recent film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged, brings vibrancy and sharpness to her turn as Beth, although she photographs as distractingly older than Efron (another trait she shares with Melrose!). She manages to emerge unscathed from a role that requires her to commit the most exaggerated scene of woman-on-garden violence this side of Mommie Dearest. She yells quite a bit in that oddly manic scene, but tragically, she does not yell, “Tebow…bring me the axe!” And then there’s the delectable and flawless Blythe Danner, playing a more rustic variation on the martini-swilling WASP matriarch role she has perfected over the years.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy about The Lucky One is that it was directed by two-time Oscar nominee Scott Hicks, who helmed the Oscar-winning Shine in 1996 and whose films have just gotten worse and worse since then. He started out with mixed-review prestige movies like Snow Falling on Cedars and Hearts in Atlantis, then the execrable Catherine Zeta-Jones romcom No Reservations, and now this steaming pile of unapologetically uninspired, pandering horseshit. I’m not sure if anyone involved in this mess can be considered “the lucky one,” but it’s certainly not Hicks. Oh, right. It’s Nicholas Sparks.

The Lucky One opens nationwide today.

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