“The Lucky One”
In a Nicholas Sparks film brought to the big screen (like “The Notebook”), you expect to see a schmaltzy romance, with some little-kid-cuteness thrown in, some dreamy sequences of beautiful landscapes, with bland orchestral accompaniments in the background, and a predictable romantic ending about how true love overcomes all obstacles. And “The Lucky One” delivers all that is expected of it. But under veteran Director Scott Hicks (“Shine”), this film doesn’t seem nearly as labored or formulaic as all that. The casting works in its favor. And the story, while thoroughly predictable, is at least fairly believable.
Logan (Zac Efron) is an American soldier from Colorado serving in Afghanistan, who, after a couple of harrowing combat experiences involving a night raid gone bad and being ambushed by armed civilians during a house search, casually goes to pick up a shining object in the rubble, which turns out to be a picture of a young woman, and on the back it says “stay safe.” Not all that remarkable. But suddenly a shell explodes in the place where he was sitting before he got up to retrieve the photo, and now he thinks of it as his good luck charm. He asks around, later, but nobody he runs into knows anything about the picture. After a couple more near-misses, Logan becomes convinced that the “charm” saved him. So when he finally gets discharged, he decides to go thank that pretty lady, whoever she is, and having really nothing better to do, sets out to find her. On foot.
It turns out she runs a dog-training kennel in Louisiana . She’d given the picture to her brother, who’s officially listed as “missing in action.” Beth (Taylor Schilling) is divorced, and a single Mom, but still lives in the same small town where her bullying ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Feguson) is a deputy sheriff, and his father is a judge running for mayor. Beth lives with her son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), who plays the violin and loves chess, and her Mom, Ellie (Blythe Danner), who also helps around the kennel, and with Ben. Yes, Beth is coping all right, but is definitely lonely, and Logan’s arrival stirs up long-dormant romantic notions within her.
But Logan almost blows this, by not quite being able to tell her the truth about how he stumbled here in the first place. He says he “can’t find the words,” though perhaps it was a better strategy to claim awkwardness and reticence, later, rather than admitting stalking her then wooing her and manipulating her emotions, and then being “discovered” as someone in possession of that “lucky” photograph carried through combat and across the ocean.
Yes, we all know where this is headed before we even begin. And sure, we figure there will be a few bumps along the way; otherwise there’s no drama at all. But this is a winsome family portrait, of a grandma (Ellie) who is wise without being smug, and a returning soldier wrestling with his post-traumatic stress disorder by trying to live a very simple life. They actually show a “straight” church service with compelling music that feels like something out of a Norman Rockwall painting. And they handle the romance in such a way as to convince us of its genuine ardor without degenerating into soft porn. The PG-13 rating indicates there’s none of the “raunch humor” so prevalent in the “romantic comedies” now rampant. This is just a straight romance, “Hallmark Hall of Fame” with a little spice and seasoning, clearly told and straightforwardly presented.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas