The Lucky One
Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Jay R. Ferguson, Riley Thomas Stewart, Joe Chrest, Jillian Batherson, Courtney J. Clark
US theatrical: 20 Apr 2012 (General release)
UK theatrical: 12 May 2012 (General release)
“You know, the smallest thing can change your life,” essays Logan (Zac Efron) during the first moments of The Lucky One. And that change, he goes on, can lead to “a future you never imagined.” Unless…. you’re in a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, in which case that future is utterly predictable.
Just so, in this seventh movie based on a Sparks book, Logan spends a few minutes in Iraq, that is, a generalized war zone in which bombs explode, dust swirls, and two US marine units accidentally meet up with each other inside a scary dark building. According to the film’s fundamental logic—luck—they don’t shoot before they recognize each other, but they’re also immediately beset by enemy fire. Logan emerges from the mayhem dazed, whereupon he stumbles upon a photo of a beautiful blond girl, and then immediately survives an explosion. A few movie moments later, a buddy (Robert Terrell Hayes) instructs an incredulous Logan as to the protective powers of the “angel” in the photo. When that buddy (who is black, but who’s counting?) is instantly and unsurprisingly killed following his observation, Logan begins to believe.
Following another couple of incidents that only reinforce this notion, Logan lands back in the US, living with his unnamed sister, her husband, and two nephews. “I don’t know where I belong,” Logan says, just before he jumps on one of the nephews who clambers onto his bed unannounced. An exchange of glances between frantic Logan and his oh-so-disappointed “Sis” leads directly to his next move: he sets off with his awesome German shepherd Zeus in search of the girl in the photo, walking—literally, apparently—from Colorado to Louisiana.
All this to set up Logan’s encounter with the angel Beth (Taylor Schilling), who works at a dog kennel owned by her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner). Despite Beth’s concern that he might be “crazy” (having made that long walk), Ellie is pleased to hire Logan, who’s a terrific dog trainer and glad to be distracted by cleaning kennels and fixing gutters and tractors. He’s also great with Beth’s young son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), which provides Scott Hicks’ film with several charming boy-bonding scenes and also inspires Beth to reconsider her first impression—as do a couple of scenes where Logan rescues her from her ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), a bully who happens to be a deputy with a judge for a dad (Adam LeFevre).
You know exactly where all this is going.
Beth wears terrific sundresses and lives under constant threat that Keith (and his dad) will take Ben away. Logan notes that she “deserves” better, and also “to be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.” He’s available for that job, of course, which leads to repeated romancey montages, with alternating backdrops of sun and rain, rolling rural hills and smalltown marketplaces, always with tinkly piano. Repeated shots of Logan walking—more than once past Beth’s window as she gasps with sudden desire—are both strangely anthemic and also nonsensical, as he adopts an expression that’s partly haunted (his version of PTSD) and partly enchanted: he really does mean to tell Beth how he’s come to her doorstep but somehow can’t find the right moment to do it.
The fact that Logan has this not-so-terrible secret, which ostensibly would confirm for her that he is really crazy, combines with Keith’s stalking behavior (sitting in his cruiser outside her house late at night) to form obstacles en route to the inevitable happy ending. The certainty of that ending is a function of the genre (melodrama), the title (Logan is the lucky one, after all), and also the heavyhanded characterizations—the hero is noble, the villain is grumpy-and-drunk-and-sexually-aggressive, the grandmother is wise. Beth’s story (her beloved brother was carrying her photo in Iraq, their parents were killed in a car accident, Keith used to be a star football player so that’s she fell for him back in high school) piles on the mushy stuff as the movie trudges toward the climax, which involves arguments and regrets, a child in peril and still more rain, plus thunder.
It hardly seems worth running down the clichés that make the Nicholas Sparks formula so annoying and so profitable. Why is the Southern town where Beth lives so white? (Okay, that’s unanswerable.) How is it that Logan is so great with Ben and assorted dogs, yet so stunted when it comes to conversation with his girlfriend? More precisely, why is he so unable to speak the few words that would fix all the drama she’ll have to endure in about two minutes? And how come Logan is able to speak the few words that will determine Keith’s fate? That is, following yet another bullying episode, when Keith tries his best to get Logan to fight him on a sidewalk in front of a wholly passive audience of anonymous locals, Logan observes, like the savior he is, “You’re a good person,” just before he turns and walks away.
And with that, the Keith issue is resolved (or close enough, save for a bit of monumental self-sacrifice). Until this point, Keith is loudly and visibly angry—at Beth and his dad and the world—but now, he has nothing to say or do. You feel thankful, because you’re tired of his overbearing antics. But you also might feel defeated. As much as you might have hoped to emerge from The Lucky One unscathed—appreciating Efron’s mighty effort to look like an adult, liking the pretty shots of local culture, enjoying some dog training business—now you remember that the formula overwhelms all. And your life is unchanged.