Apr 25 2012
In my review of The Vow a few weeks back, I initially mis-identified it as being based on a Nicholas Sparks book. It had Sparks veterans Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, and was a straight-faced romance in an age where those sort of movies usually have to have a “comedy” addition on the end.
As it turns out, the story about a woman who has amnesia and forgets her husband, causing him to try and woo her all over again, was a much too plausible scenario for a Nicholas Sparks book. But now with The Lucky One, we’re firmly back in Sparks territory.
The film means to be a sort of “growing up” vehicle for Zac Efron, long past his High School Musical days and attempting to convince us he’s badass enough to go from singing point guard to combat marine. After Logan survives a mortar shell attack because he left his location to pick up a lost photo on the ground, he feels the need to find the woman pictured and thank her for cosmically saving his life.
“I was going to tell you this really awesome story, but nevermind, I’ll just make it a weird secret instead.”
After channeling Forrest Gump and spending the better part of a year walking from Colorado to Louisiana, he finds the woman, Elie (Taylor Schilling). She runs a dog kennel and has a young son with blonde curly hair, making the adorableness quotient of the film skyrocket within the first ten minutes, and stay there for the duration.
Rather than explain why he’s there, showing her the photo and saying thanks, Logan fumbles his words and ends up pretending that he’s there to apply for a handyman job. Elie thinks him insane for trekking halfway across the country to work at a dog kennel, but Logan is hired at the insistence of her mother (Blythe Danner), and Logan’s true motivation for being there remains a secret.
Why is this a secret? I couldn’t actually tell you. The scenario reminded me of Another Earth, a film I recently saw which had a young woman pose as a cleaning girl for a man whose family she killed in a car wreck when she was a minor. Like this film, they fall in love, but unlike this film, when her secret is revealed, you would imagine it’s actually going to be a big deal.
But here? Keeping his rather touching story a secret? It’s hardly the kind of conflict that drives a compelling story. Rather, the film is forced to add in a more overt source of trouble-making. That would be Elie’s ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), a local cop and son of a judge running for mayor. He constantly threatens Elie that he’ll have his father take away custody rights if she gives him any trouble, and that includes making googly eyes at ex-marines who work at her kennel.
“You hear me BOY? Call me a stereotype one more time BOY!”
Keith is the only wrench in the works of a film that’s for the most part, about very nice people being very nice to each other. He’s such a one-dimensional alpha male, his character doesn’t even make sense. Just when you think he’s about to find some sort of redemption, they double down on his idiocy, and he’s such an archetype, he doesn’t feel like he fits in this otherwise idyllic universe.
Unfortunately, Efron’s Logan is an archetype too, just in the other direction. When he exhibited PTSD symptoms with his own family before leaving for Louisiana, I was hopeful that he might have some depth to him. But once he shows up at the kennel? He’s purely an Eagle Scout, always saying the exact right thing at the exact right moment, and being an all around good guy that has quite literally no flaws, except for his bizarre need to keep his reason for being there a big secret. Efron is certainly likable, but there’s no depth to the character he’s playing.
The only character with any real substance is Elie, torn between her job, her son, her ex, her new love interest, all against the backdrop of recently losing a loved one. She’s a very conflicted character, and stands out against the one-dimensional bodies around her.
It’s a sweet movie, but almost saccharin. Ninety percent of the film is filled with moments that could be in Kodak commercials, and the other ten is spoiled by a villain character who lacks any degree of sense or subtlety. Stick with The Notebook if you must watch a Sparks movie this week.
2 out of 5 stars
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