Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Latest Cinematic Nicholas Sparks Film Leaves Even The Romantic Sighing In Boredom.

The Good: Moments of genuine passion, Performances.
The Bad: The characters are all archetypes (and obvious ones at that), Little on-screen chemistry with leads, Plot is very predictable and contrived.
The Basics: The Lucky One requires more suspension of disbelief and sensibility in an attempt to make a romance film that never quite pops.

Something interesting happened this year at the movie theaters. First, February was not a complete wash as movies that were actually decent made an appearance in that usually dreadful month. And, it seems, most of the crap that usually occupies February was not just pushed back to March. As it turns out, it may well have been pushed back to late-April. Apparently, and I’m just spitballing here, the major movie studios decided to push out good films before The Hunger Games (reviewed here!) and then just dump their crap in the weeks that followed it under the notion that they couldn’t possibly have competed (I would have liked to see them try, frankly!). This week, as a weird week of The Hunger Games drizzling out and before The Avengers (reviewed here!) officially kicks off Summer Blockbuster season, seems to be an especially dreadful one for new releases. There are Saturday night reruns this weekend that look like they might have a better chance of making money than some of the releases hitting theaters this weekend!

I use this as the preface to my review of The Lucky One because when I keep editing out the phrase “one-trick pony,” the review keeps coming up dreadfully short. And, I’d rather rant for a moment about how bad the cinematic field is at the moment than continue on a long diatribe on how movie studios treat women like idiots. The studios do, though, and The Lucky One is ample evidence of that. While this year’s The Vow (reviewed here!) managed to have a creative hook for its contrived love story, The Lucky One does not even have that. Instead, it is just contrived and director Scott Hicks almost appears to know that as he fills the dreadfully dull film up with long interstitial shots of scenery and people looking off longingly. And they’re pretty much all Hollywood beautiful twigs, so The Lucky One is pretty much what passes (in mainstream culture) for porn for women: good looking guy (I want him) meets good looking woman (I want to look like her) who is not really happy in her life (I can understand that) and has a son (which every woman must want!) and an abusive separated husband (because we all go for the bad boys when we’re young) and the good guy falls for her while committing a pretty serious lie of omission (which is forgivable because there’s no one else in the entire world out there for me, especially one that looks so good and treats my kid so well). And, oh, there’s the sage maternal figure (which someday I hope to be). My point here, which I assume most of my readers are smart enough to infer is that The Lucky One is just a long train of Hollywood clichés that prolong the fairy tale romance ideals indoctrinated in our girls making life for actual, emotionally aware and mature women just that much more difficult. And virtually impossible for men (except the absolutely rich ones).

(Imagine how long that would have been had I not spent some time writing about the state of film today!)

Serving in Iraq is dangerous work, especially as solders are compelled to stay for additional tours. Logan Thibault is a U.S. Marine who bends down one day to pick up a photograph of a hot blonde he sees in the rubble and, in the process, he narrowly avoids getting blown up. Believing the photograph is his lucky charm now, he holds onto it as he serves out his final of three tours of duty. Shipped back to the U.S., Logan decides to track down the woman in the picture, who turns out to be Beth Clayton. Logan meets her at the kennels at which Beth works for her Nana. Before Logan can tell Beth why he is there, she leaps to the conclusion that he is responding to the advertisement for help and Nana hires Logan to do chores around the kennels.

It is not long before Logan’s kindness toward Beth’s eight year-old son Ben and his abilities around the kennels endears Logan to Beth. Their romance blooms with Nana’s encouragement. As Beth’s life begins to turn around, her estranged husband, the local bullying sheriff comes to challenge Beth’s custody of Ben and break up the relationship. All the while, Logan’s reason for tracking Beth down acts as a ticking time bomb of truth waiting to corrupt the good thing they have.

The lie – overt or by omission – has become a pretty pathetic plot device (I refuse to characterize it as a function of character) in the romantic drama movie. In The Lucky One it is utterly unfathomable. In general terms, the strong, otherwise smart male characters like Logan fall for a woman who has been betrayed, mistreated and/or lied to by a pretty obvious Alpha Male with serious character issues. The number one thing a guy like Logan can do to differentiate himself from a jerk like Keith is to be absolutely honest. But, no, apparently Logan is generally unrattled by wartime, but suffers from crippling shyness when it comes to answering simple, direct questions from women he has built up in his mind. It’s worse in The Lucky One because honesty early in the film would have saved Beth a whole lot of heartache as she worries about her missing brother.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all the substance there is in The Lucky One. As is the habit in such movies, Logan is a jack-of-all-trades, which endears him further to Beth. This is in sharp contrast to Keith, who comes across as a monolithic character who is sheriff 24/7, in the home as on the streets. In The Lucky One, this fails to make it seem even remotely plausible that Beth and Keith ever would have been an item. Beth, however, is an archetype of her own, the modern archetype of a young woman who made all her mistakes early in life (though she would never call having Ben a mistake) and is now finding herself in her young twenties and (finally) figuring out what is important to her.

With the characters being pretty much a wash, it comes to the actors to save The Lucky One. Fortunately, they largely do what they need to in their somewhat obvious roles. Zac Efron plays Logan with both strength and quiet certainty. He manages to make Logan not seem like a nitwit when the character cannot come clean with Beth. Taylor Schilling plays the young mother Beth well, though it’s not much of a stretch for her to play a mid-twenties woman. Blythe Danner, however, steals the film from her (and everyone else) in every scene she is in. Danner is articulate, mature and has a presence that draws the eye much more than anyone else in The Lucky One

The film is hampered some, as well, by the lack of chemistry between Schilling and Efron. On-screen, the two go through the motions as Logan and Beth, but there is no performed spark between them. Instead, Efron seems reserved at some moments when Logan is making his moves and Schilling’s body language is more often one of disinterest than compliance. The result is the while the rest of the performances are, at the very least, fine, the actual romantic aspects come across as forced or unreal as opposed to truly passionate or romantic.

Ultimately, The Lucky One suffers as a blasé romantic drama that is exactly what Nicholas Sparks is known for. Unfortunately, he has played this card several times already as a writer and changing up the cast and minor plot details, alas, does not make a particularly satisfying new movie experience.

For other films with Blythe Danner, please check out my reviews of:
Meet The Parents
The Love Letter
Forces Of Nature
The X-Files: Fight The Future>


For other movie reviews, please be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for other films I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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