I’ve never read a Nicholas Sparks novel, so I can’t speak for their quality. For all I know, they’re wonderfully written sweeping romances that even the most jaded lover would embrace. His prose could be beautiful, describing in perfect detail the characters in his stories, their settings and the events they go through. I honestly don’t know, but as a simple storyteller, Sparks lacks creativity. Having seen every one of his book-to-film adaptations, from 1999’s Message in a Bottle to this week’s The Lucky One, I can say without a doubt the man doesn’t know how to craft a story. All he does is take the same basic formula, repackage it with a new traumatic event or life ending illness and crap it out onto the page, or in this case, the screen, for public consumption. He had some luck with the solid (yet still overrated) romance, The Notebook, but when you’re seven movies in and only one can legitimately be called good, it’s time to stop.
The Lucky One follows Logan (Zac Efron), a US Marine who has served three tours in Iraq. While on his last tour of duty, he spots a picture of a beautiful woman named Beth (Taylor Schilling) on the ground a few feet away from where he’s standing. His intrigue gets the best of him, so he walks over to pick it up. Just as he reaches the picture, a missile detonates behind him. The picture saved his life. When he gets back to the states, he decides to seek the girl in the photo out. He finds her in North Carolina, but doesn’t know how to explain to her what happened and why he has traveled so far from his home state of Colorado to see her. So instead, he takes a job she and her grandmother Ellie (Blythe Danner) are offering training dogs. Eventually, a romance sparks, but his secret can’t be kept hidden forever and it will threaten their happiness, especially if Beth’s ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), can do anything about it.
Nicholas Sparks is not a romance writer. He’s a schmaltz writer, a hack hiding behind the guise of a hopeless romantic. His stories rarely earn their tears through good writing and interesting characters, but rather through manipulation. Sparks has an affinity for putting his characters through the wringer so his easily seduced literary and movie going demographic will feel something other than ambivalence. It’s not enough for the characters to have terrible things happen to them within the current setting of the story; he has to give them tragic pasts as well. When Beth says at one point that both her parents died in a car crash when she was young, the thought that comes to mind isn’t of sympathy or sadness, but rather of cynicism: “Of course they did.”
If you’ve seen the other movies based on Sparks’ books, this should come as no surprise, nor should the predictably overblown ending. Anyone can take someone else’s material, change a few things around and call it an original concept, but Sparks does it to himself. He’s a lazy storyteller without an original thought in his head, but that’s only offensive in the figurative sense. His recent trend of trivializing important world events and issues to fit his romantic upchucks is far worse. Similar to how Dear John used the tragedy of 9/11, The Lucky One uses the Iraq war and the post traumatic stress disorder many of our soldiers are diagnosed with after returning home to segue into fluffy romantic nonsense. At certain points in the movie, you see Logan jump in fear as he hears a loud bang or gunfire coming from the television as some kids play some video games. Later, his nephew wakes him from his slumber and he immediately slams the kid down on the bed and begins to choke him. What happens to many of those who return from war is a serious matter and is worthy of serious dramatic consideration, but using it as a means to sucker in easily emotionalized viewers is not only clumsy storytelling, but also disrespectful to the reality of such a thing.
The rest of The Lucky One fares about as one might expect: forced dramatic scenarios brought on by heightened caricatures, numerous montages set to the backdrop of a sappy sweet melody and lots of distant staring, one person emotionally longing for the other. In just about every way possible, The Lucky One is redundant, both of Sparks’ other stories and of the romance genre in general. It brings nothing new to the table, instead relying on the same contrived narrative procedures that fans of this tripe inexplicably eat up. If you’re one of those people, The Lucky One will do its job, but all others should steer clear.
The Lucky One receives 1/5