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The Lucky One

April 24, 2012
The Lucky One

Nicholas Sparks writes to a very particular sensibility, and so there’s a fair amount you can assume about The Lucky One just by knowing that it’s based on one of his novels. However, within that stylistic envelope a movie can be done well or it can be done badly. This one is done badly, and almost insultingly so.

Logan Thibeault (Zac Efron) is a Marine sergeant in Iraq when we start, and he’s a lucky one indeed. The morning after a messy night raid, he notices something glinting in the rubble. Walking over and stooping to recover it, he sees it’s a picture of a young woman in front of a lighthouse. Just then, a rocket-propelled grenade strikes the ground where he had just been standing, killing three marines but sparing Logan. We are given — sloppily — to understand that he survives more incidents before rotating home eight months later, never having found the rightful owner of the picture.

Logan doesn’t adjust well to his life back in Colorado with his sister and rambunctious nephews. His pangs of survivor’s guilt drive him to find the woman in the picture, which is made easy since he luckily finds a matching picture of the lighthouse online. I’m pretty sure the website said it was in Hammond, Louisiana — everything else but the characters’ accents certainly places it along the western end of the Louisiana coast — but at least one plot summary claims it’s actually North Carolina. Either way, Logan and his loyal german shepherd Zeus set out and walk there from the Rockies. It seems pretty far, but it only takes about as long as a montage.

In town, Logan quickly finds his mystery woman: Beth Green (Taylor Schilling). She runs a dog kennel with her grandmother, Ellie (Blythe Danner), while raising her son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and mourning her brother who died a year previously as a marine in Iraq. The connection is obvious, but the characters are oblivious; Logan can’t find the words to explain his presence and stumbles into doing odd jobs at the kennel.

Beth clearly has problems. Having lost her father as a child — she relates fond memories of his boat that no longer runs — and now her brother — the walled garden he built is overgrown with weeds — she suffers from not having a big, strong man in her life. Ben’s father, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), isn’t dead but he’s clearly gangrenous as a male figure — a hyper-masculine bully of a sheriff’s deputy whose father the judge (Adam LeFevre) practically owns the town.

And Logan is just the man to cure all of Beth’s ills. He can repair anything, including her father’s boat; he can be a caring, nurturing father figure to Ben; he’s a marine, just like Beth’s brother was. Logan can literally do no wrong, and the fact that he looks just like that kid from High School Musical all grown up doesn’t hurt a bit.

The rocket that launches the story may be the subtlest thing about it. We rush from one scene to another, all designed to show just how perfect Logan is and how he can, step by step, fix poor, helpless, broken Beth. I can’t speak to Sparks’ novel, but Will Fetters’ screenplay and Scott Hicks’ direction understand that their core audience won’t be very critical, and they rely heavily on this fact. They don’t expend much effort on keeping the story afloat, but it doesn’t take much to tread water in syrup this thick.

Look, I understand that attendance will probably be mandatory if you’re a giant sucker for Sparks’ work — or if you’re dating someone who is — but I’m constantly surprised at how some women will wolf down narratives that trivialize and infantilize them like this. Some people like it, but I can’t in good conscience recommend becoming one of them.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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