Movie Review: The Lucky One
Zac Efron stars as an ex-Marine who finds a photograph of a woman in the battlefield and sets out to find her. Based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, it's a romantic melodrama of soft focus, dreamy idealism and predictable results.
Starring: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner
Rating: Two and a half stars out of five
People who like this sort of thing -- and you know who you are, with your library of Nicholas Sparks novels and Zac Efron looking soulfully down from the poster on your wall -- will like The Lucky One, a Nicholas Sparks story that stars Zac Efron. The rest of the world will have to make do with the comparatively cynical view of love in Titanic.
The Lucky One is a Sparks specialty: damaged man follows his destiny to the woman he is meant to be with, bathed on some sun-dappled coast where the Philharmonia Melodramatica is always nearby, violins at the ready.
"The smallest thing can change your life," in the words of Logan (Efron), a U.S. Marine who, in the midst of a gritty battle in the ruins of Iraq, finds a photograph of a pretty blond woman. "Keep safe," she has written on the back, and the picture becomes his good-luck charm. Later, Logan will say, "Finding something like that in a war is like finding an angel in hell."
Logan is like that: a former philosophy student who plays the piano and reads Moby Dick in his spare time, he is also handsome, wise, brave, smart, caring, polite, handy, ripped, blue of eye and white of tooth. Back in the U.S., he traces the photograph to Louisiana, where the woman turns out to be Beth (Mercy's Taylor Schilling, a sort of younger Jessica Lange), a divorcee who runs a kennel near -- it's perhaps redundant to say -- a sun-dappled coast.
Logan has come to thank her for being his guardian angel by proxy, but somehow he never gets to tell her until later. By then, the revelation -- it turns out Beth had sent the photo to her Marine brother, who died in Iraq -- becomes a dramatic turning point. Why Logan doesn't come clean in the first place, and why it's so shameful that he found her picture, are part of the mystery of The Lucky One, and perhaps part of the mystery of romance itself. Nicholas Sparks seems to know what he's talking about in this arena, so it doesn't pay to argue, but all the same, it seems pretty fishy.
Beth and Logan are obviously meant to be together -- for one thing, their eyes are complimentary shades of blue -- but for a while, he just works around the kennel, training dogs, fixing engines and being generally perfect. He's even capable of adorably losing at chess to Beth's son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), whose fair-haired cuteness comes in just this side of grating, and who, furthermore, plays the violin with the occasional winning squeak.
The fly in this ointment -- aside from the dark secret of Beth's picture -- is Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), her dark-browed ex-husband, one of those macho creeps who is also emotionally and physically abusive, and whose handsomeness is corrupt and threatening. He's exactly wrong for angelic Beth, but such are the further mysteries of love, though not of novel-writing.
For Efron, who won teenage hearts in High School Musical, The Lucky One is a breakthrough into adult leading roles, which means a bit of stubble and some quasi-steamy love scenes -- lots of kissing under falling water and simulated sex on chairs -- that are another trademark of such soft-core romantic dramas. He's helped along by veteran actress Blythe Danner, who plays Beth's grandmother with a sly wisdom: Like us, she knows where the story is going as soon as Logan shows up.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to hurry it along. Under the workmanlike hand of director Scott Hicks (Shine), The Lucky One has several beats to hit -- the secret of the photograph, the comeuppance of Keith, some kind of resolution to young Ben's violin-playing -- and it bangs them with a predictability that is expert and comforting. For what it is, The Lucky One does the job. If you like that sort of thing.