Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Lucky One

2012. Dir: Scott Hicks. Starring: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Riley Thomas Stewart and Jay R. Ferguson. ●●●○○

I imagine that most people who chose to see The Lucky One know exactly what they're getting into. The sun setting behind the lovers, the ripped rugged guy with airbrushed muscles, the delicate woman and most importantly the previous adaptations of the authors work in the top of the poster. Nicolas Sparks doesn't get a mention on the poster, but his stamp is all over it, in fact the phenomenal success of his previous movies that do get a plug (both Dear John and The Notebook took $80m in the States) guarantees the audience instantly recognise the genre and story beats set ahead of us.

For those of you who can't guess the plot Zac Efron is Iraq war veteran Logan who picked up a photo whilst on his first tour that saved his life. Without knowing the girl on it he carries it around like a good luck charm, and somehow it works, whilst many of his brothers-in-arms make the ultimate sacrifice. Following his return to civvy street he resolves to find her and before you know he's working part-time in Taylor Schilling's doggie hotel. Too shy to tell her the truth but far too hunky to rule out the inevitable romantic entanglements he soon becomes part of her extended family, losing at chess with her son Riley Thomas Stewart and learning sage advice from her earthy Grandmother Blythe Danner.

There is danger lurking though, Schilling's dangerously obsessive ex-husband Jay R. Ferguson, the town sheriff no less, is constantly threatening a custody case to prevent Schilling from getting on with her life. Also we're in a Nicolas Sparks film so you just know that some cast members won't make it to the final credits - and no I'm not spoiling it.

Now I absolutely hated Dear John so I did go into this Sparks follow-up with a sense of deep trepidation, but I was pleasantly surprised with the script this time round. Will Fetters, who's only other screenwriting credit is for Remember Me, keeps the cloying romanticism at bay. At the start Schilling is flinty and patronising whilst Efron is emotionally closed off and slightly creepy, the relationship that develops is built on shared experiences and sexual desire and not just some wishy washy concept of true love.

That's not to say it isn't still relentlessly bleak, the stench of death pervades every frame from the charged early battle scenes to the final reel shock loss (still no spoilers) even the multiple bereavements Schilling has suffered - both her parents and US Marine brother (now there's a clue) have passed away before we even meet her. There are moments when this works, the film hints at Efron's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in his relationship with his nephews and his long walk across America, and Schilling's breakdown in the garden (whilst appallingly filmed) is effective in showing her inability to deal with the grief. Potentially this could be hinting at the State's inability to deal with the emotional trauma of war, almost a teen friendly The Messenger, but the momentum is lost around half way through when the plot takes over from the characterisations.

Efron proves himself once again as a competent and rising actor, always magnetic yet never showy and whilst he doesn't have enough to do here my appetite has certainly been whetted for The Paperboy. I was also impressed by Stewart who stays just the right side of precocity and Danner's sardonic asides make her the MVP.

Less successful is Ferguson's Sheriff who's rollercoaster attachment to his ex is inconsistent serves only to create false tension - there's an utterly laughable scene with a gun. I think the film, the third act histrionics, the macguffin of the unmentioned photo would have had a much bigger impact if he was just a normal guy, suspicious of this stranger rather than an obvious villain.

Scott Hicks is the last director anyone would claim is an auteur yet the signatures of backlit by the sun heroes and lush vegetation that appear in The Boys are Back and Hearts in Atlantis have returned. And at least this is a much better film than those previous efforts.

In conclusion I wouldn't bother going to a cinema to see The Lucky One but I wouldn't turn the telly over either. Nice enough and the target audience, the Sparks fans, should go in droves.


Alex in Movieland said...

gosh, I'd never go to see this. :D the entire film was in the trailer.

you are a brave man!

Runs Like A Gay said...

The entire film was in the poster, but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth going to see how they ended up together.

I think you're being far too cynical.

Jose Solís said...

It was enjoyable in an awkward way, although to be honest I expected to see at least a bum shot. Zac should get naked more often, his biceps and baby blues were not enough for me!

Runs Like A Gay said...

Can't wait to see his body lingered over in The Paperboy. Yum.