After watching Scott Hicks’ The Lucky One (2012) last month, I finally polished off my 5-Film Nicholas Sparks Collection from Warner Brothers.
Having never indulged in any of Sparks’ romantic dramas before purchasing this DVD set, I was originally bracing for a pretty miserable movie marathon based on bad word-of-mouth and poor critical reception across the board.
However, running through all five films has proven to be a much more well-rounded viewing experience in terms of quality, with distinctive peaks (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), valleys (Message in a Bottle) and plateaus (Nights in Rodanthe).
With this in mind, I was hoping to end this journey on a high note with The Lucky One, especially since this project boasted another attractive cast and picturesque American setting.
Unfortunately, this film also turned out to be a greatest hits compilation of all the worst elements of the four previous entries in this collection, with cheesy dialogue, ludicrous plotting and flat characters who belong in a cartoon.
Because of this, my initial journey into the world of Nicholas Sparks ended with more of a whimper than a PG-13 rated bang.
In case the trailer didn’t make it clear, the eponymous “Lucky One” of the story is Logan (Zac Efron), a US marine who miraculously survived several near-death experiences during a recent tour of Iraq.
Logan believes that his good fortune is due to a random photo he found in the dirt moments before a mortar shell killed several of his squad mates.
After returning state-side, Logan vows to find the woman featured in this photograph, eventually stumbling upon dog kennel owner Beth (Taylor Schilling) in a sleepy Louisiana town.
Rather than telling Beth the real reason why he showed up out of nowhere Logan applies to work at the kennel instead, allowing their romantic relationship to blossom on top of a healthy foundation of lies.
Of course, the flimsiness of this premise is suspiciously familiar to Message in a Bottle (1999), where the main character of that film also withholds the truth in order to get closer to a potential lover.
While Efron is not nearly as creepy or manipulative as Robin Wright was in Message, his character’s decision to lie by omission still comes across as being an extremely lazy way of manufacturing conflict.
After all, one of Logan’s defining characteristics in The Lucky One is that he is an honest and good-natured hunk, which doesn’t gel at all with the deceptive nature of his meet-cute with Beth.
I know screenwriter Will Fetters was bound by the constraints of the original source material, but judging by the Wikipedia summary for Sparks’ 2008 book he already changed around the basic plot structure for this movie adaptation. So, from where I’m sitting, a couple more tweaks couldn’t hurt.
For this hypothetical re-write, Fetters should also look at revising the other major antagonistic force in this story, which is Beth’s divorced husband Keith.
While actor Jay Ferguson is no stranger to playing jerks on TV shows like Mad Men, here he’s given absolutely nothing to work with portraying a romantic rival who is more warthog than man.
Basically, every negative trait you could associate with a jealous ex is put into a blender and poured into this character’s mould to make Efron look even better by comparison.
Outside of being physically and emotionally abusive to the mother of his child, Keith is also written to be a spoiled redneck who uses his status as the town sheriff to bully and intimidate people he doesn’t like (knowing full well that his judge father will absolve him of any wrongdoing).
This character is so comically evil that he even points a loaded gun at Efron’s dog near the end of the movie, an action that should put him on the shit list of every viewer who isn’t an outright serial killer.
But despite this, the filmmakers also attempt to give Keith a rushed redemption arc at the tail end of the story, even though such a development isn’t earned or organic in the least.
But spotty writing is far from the only thing weighing The Lucky One down.
On a technical level, this film is littered with awkward cuts and weird editing decisions that give the proceedings a very amateurish feel.
At times it seems like the filmmakers simply lost certain footage during post-production, forcing them to splice certain scenes together without all the connective tissue.
For example, there’s one moment where Beth tells Logan about a treasured memory of her dead brother, where he sealed up one of her books in a brick wall.
However, this revelation lacks a lot of emotional impact on screen since the director didn’t include a close-up of the object in question, making it look like Schilling is staring at nothing.
In terms of acting, most of the cast actually turn in a respectable performance given the subpar material they have to work with.
Riley Thomas Stewart is particularly impressive as Beth’s nine-year-old son Ben, who outshines a lot of the adult actors in terms of presence and charisma.
Blyth Danner also gets saddled with some of the best lines as Beth’s sassy grandmother, reminding me, once again, of Message in a Bottle and how Paul Newman steals that movie in a similar, gender-flipped role.
While Efron does a decent job of playing the strong, silent type, it’s a shame he couldn’t decide on an accent to really anchor his performance.
Most of the time he sounds like your typical California surfer bro, but every once in a while he decides to deliver his lines with a Southern twang for some reason.
And as good an actor Efron can be given the right project, he’s not talented enough to save some of the Harlequin Romance novel-level dialogue he’s asked to spit out, like when he tells Schilling that “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.”
But then again, that kind of corniness is what makes these movies (and the books they’re based on) so successful.
Having sat through five Sparks adaptations now, I’ll admit that there is something very appealing about how these different filmmakers lean into this highly romanticized material so unapologetically.
Through populating each movie with endless sunsets, vast aquatic scenery, vintage vehicles, and impossibly beautiful people, they’re able to create the perfect breeding ground for a love story that isn’t confined to a specific decade in late 20th century America.
The Lucky One is no different, with director of photography Alar Kivilo doing a lot of the heavy lifting to create that signature look and feel.
But unlike some of the better films in the Sparks canon (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), this 2012 entry doesn’t have a strong enough script to elevate this unmistakably shallow subject matter.
Even though the movie tries to establish some depth early on by making a big deal about Logan’s PTSD, that important character detail is all but abandoned as soon as the romance with Beth gets fully underway.
So in the end, The Lucky One doesn’t have a lot to offer besides some purely superficial elements that one can already experience by staring at the film’s generic theatrical poster.
And while this did represent a sour conclusion to my first foray into the world of Nicholas Sparks, I remain mildly interested in seeing how his six remaining movie adaptations turn out.
After all, this franchise is successful for a reason, and I feel like I’m getting closer to cracking that code with every new screening.
Corner store companion:
Carnaby Sweet marshmallow hearts (because it’s some cheap, sugary crap that should only be consumed around Valentine’s Day)
-Release date: April 20, 2012
-Budget: $25 million (estimated)
-Box office: $60,457,138 (domestic), $99,357,138 (worldwide)
-While The Lucky One received mostly negative reviews from critics, the film picked up a number of Teen Choice Awards (choice movie actor-Efron, choice movie-drama) and a single People’s Choice Award (favourite dramatic movie actor-Efron). Riley Thomas Stewart was also nominated for a Young Artist Award for his performance in this film as Schillings’ son Ben.
-The Louisiana house where Beth lives was re-used for the 2014 Nicholas Sparks film adaptation for The Best of Me.
-Outside of feature films, director Scott Hicks has a history of helming documentaries and music videos for the Australian rock band INXS.
–Musical highlight: “The Story” by Brandi Carlile (plays over the end credits)