‘The Lucky One’ Suffers From Emotionally Constipated Performances

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – I’m of two minds about the work of Nicholas Sparks. On one hand, I admire his sensitive portrayals of good-hearted people, particularly young lovers, which serve as comfort food for teenagers overwhelmed by peer pressure. On the other hand, I’m also the guy who said the following about his last book-to-screen adaptation, “The Last Song”: “You may need a lump in your head before you can get one in your throat.”

Like any successful author, Sparks knows his target audience extremely well. Yet the rigidity of his reliable formula has become so predictable and repetitive that it threatens to bore even his most ardent fans. I saw “The Lucky One” in a theater filled with Sparks fans, and I was surprised by the number of derisive laughs that it inspired. That reaction starkly contrasted with the simultaneous sniffle that I heard erupt from a packed house of watery eyed teens during a screening of “A Walk to Remember” a decade ago.

In many ways, “The Lucky One” is a retread of the first Sparks picture, “Message in a Bottle.” Both films center on would-be soul mates who are brought together by a series of tidy coincidences. One of them harbors a secret that is left unrevealed until the third act, thus providing a false crisis to act as an overture for the real crisis, which is typically in the form of a wildly melodramatic climax. This sort of material sinks or swims on the depth of its performances, and “Lucky One” is fatally marred by the maddening hollowness of its leading man. In interviews, Zac Efron has hinted at his frustration that his character, a nobel Marine named Logan, is a touch too perfect to be believable. Indeed, Logan is the sort of honorable bore that has recently populated Sparks’ novels, allowing underachieving actors an excuse to give an empty performance. Like Channing Tatum, Efron’s idea of dramatic acting consists of glazed-over eyes and endless brooding stares. On the few occasions when Efron is required to emote, either his face is shrouded in shadow or his line delivery is awkwardly clipped by abrupt editing. But like Taylor Lautner, Efron doesn’t need acting chops to win the hearts and other organs of swooning moviegoers. Thanks to all the physical training that money can buy, Efron’s newly beefed-up, shirtless bod earns a number of lingering close-ups, functioning as the sort of objectified eye candy normally supplied by women in Michael Bay blockbusters.

TAYLOR SCHILLING as Beth and ZAC EFRON as Logan in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' romantic drama THE LUCKY ONE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
TAYLOR SCHILLING as Beth and ZAC EFRON as Logan in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ romantic drama THE LUCKY ONE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo credit: Alan Markfield

The pre-title sequence opens in chaos and gunfire as Logan carries out a patriotic raid in Iraq. Bullets riddle one man’s skull, and blood splatters on the wall behind him, but perhaps since it’s war-related violence, the scene has earned a PG-13 rating (for the record, “The Artist” was rated PG-13 for “a crude gesture” and the image of a gun entering a man’s mouth but failing to go off—thanks MPAA). Once the credits begin to roll, the film is all sunlight and sweetness, as Logan walks from Colorado to Louisiana on a mission to find the woman of his dreams. That epic journey on foot might’ve served as more interesting subject matter for a movie, but I digress.

The woman is named Beth (Taylor Schilling), and her image graced the photo from which a heavenly light emanated on the ground in Iraq. It attracted Logan’s attention and ended up saving him from an explosion, thus emerging as an unlikely good luck charm. The photo originally belonged to Beth’s brother who died in the war, and Logan’s delivery of the photo would easily earn him copious amounts of gratitude. But since the script needs to contrive a false sense of drama, Logan refuses to be honest with Beth, and pretends to be a mere job applicant for work at her kennel. This kicks off a series of montages that provide a showcase for trendy pop tunes, while resembling the sort of footage utilized in drug commercials when the narrator in running through a list of side effects (in this case, they would be queasiness, sugar headaches and loss of interest).

Logan immediately receives threatening vibes from Beth’s ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), the one flat-out rotten character in the picture whose rottenness is given a stereotypical explanation (his father is unsupportive). In nearly every one of his scenes, Keith sports the same leering expression while chewing gum in a sinister fashion until he eventually becomes a walking sight gag. I shared the sentiments of my fellow critic, Bill Stamets, when he whispered to me, “Can’t he just be eaten by a crocodile?” At one point, it appears that Keith may not be such a bad chap after all. When his son (Riley Thomas Stewart) shares an instrumental duet with Logan at church, Keith’s eyes well up. Alas, the tears prove to be little more than the residue of bitterness, and his one-note villainy remains consistent until the usual climax of spectacular convenience.

BLYTHE DANNER as Ellie in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' romantic drama THE LUCKY ONE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
BLYTHE DANNER as Ellie in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ romantic drama THE LUCKY ONE, a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Photo credit: Alan Markfield

“The Lucky One” definitely represents a low point in the Sparks film series, but it isn’t without its charms. With her deadpan drawl and wispy features reminiscent of Sissy Spacek, Blythe Danner is a stitch as Beth’s mother. She fulfills the rom-com duties of the Best Friend archetype by frequently peeking around corners and smiling knowingly as the plot’s puzzle pieces gradually snap together. Stewart is a pint-sized scene stealer, and delivers what may be the most naturalistic performance in the picture. I even liked Schilling’s spunk and energy, though I grew exhausted watching her tirelessly emote in scenes opposite the mannequin-like Efron. Within a couple minutes of screen time, Schilling rips apart her garden in a violent rage, collapses to the ground, wistfully reminisces about her brother and breaks out into a full-throated laugh before bursting into tears. All the while, Efron remains as stoic and static as an actor patiently counting the minutes toward receiving his paycheck. Yet Efron can’t be solely blamed for causing the film to fall flat. Sparks is a gifted writer, but if he insists on using the same creaky plot mechanics in book after book, picture after picture, it won’t be long before his luck finally runs out.

‘The Lucky One’ stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Jay R. Ferguson, Riley Thomas Stewart and Blythe Danner. It was written by Will Fetters and directed by Scott Hicks. It was released in local theaters. It is rated PG-13.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

ziggy one of the best's picture

"The Lucky One"

I did not like this flick To me is was thie case of the unlucky one!!!

Manny be down's picture


Well to start one I’ll never see this movie again so I’m the lucky one

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