The Lucky One (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Lucky One (2012)

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I, occasionally, miss first kisses. Don't get me wrong, I'm much happier now than I've ever been, but there's something about anticipation that I relish. I think great romantic dramas rely on that same sort of anticipation; since they're one of the few genres that gets to experiment with the unhappy ending in modern cinema, from Love Story to The Notebook, I had high hopes that the new Nicholas Sparks-based drama The Lucky One would enliven my tear ducts and enjoin my heartstrings.

Suffice to say, no, that didn't happen. In fact, so little emotional ground is explored in the film that it feels like we're watching the director play high school melodrama with an assortment of China dolls. The Lucky One could be a textbook case for displaying emotional sublimation on cinematic screens since it so perfectly embodies solemn dutiful stares and characters embroiled in wordless thought.

Not always a bad thing. But the movie itself, dressed in the last issue of "Country Living" you saw on the shelf and baked in the warmest honey-sunned glows, has no passion underneath, no characters worth exploring. Great romance requires conflict as well as anticipation, and the main conflict behind The Lucky One is extremely hoary.

"If I bite my lip, then will I be pretty enough Mr. Sparks?"

The Lucky One tells the story of Logan (Zac Efron), a 25-year-old Iraq War veteran who miraculously makes it through his third tour of duty by means of a very shiny picture. After the rest of his Marine platoon is in the ground, he walks away, shaken. Heading back to Colorado, he finds his sister's family holding him at arm's length and his nephews completely desensitized to violence (Pro tip, kids: don't sneak up on your veteran uncle and scare him awake!).

Deciding to track down the girl from the picture, he manages to walk his way from Colorado to small town Louisiana with his dog Zeus and through sheer persistence finds Beth (Taylor Schilling). She's back lit through nearly translucent clothing when we first see her, so we know we've found his proverbial angel. Beth's been helping her grandmother Nan (Blythe Danner) run her dog kennel, and doesn't get Logan's reason for the walk before Nan hires him to help keep the place up.

If Logan's PTSD isn't enough for the film, Beth has a slew of emotional issues. Besides the survivor's guilt (she lost her brother in the war and her parents when she was a kid), lingering relationship issues from an unhealthy and possibly abusive marriage to Keith (Jay Ferguson), and an infinitely precocious child named Ben. Ben's one of those super cute movie kids who does adorable things when needed and is shy and distant whenever he needs a convenient father figure to step in.

Keith isn't doing so hot at playing dad, even though he's a town Sheriff. Keith's dad is running for the town's mayor, and, chafing under his father's criticisms and demands, Keith takes out his aggression on Logan, Beth, Ben, Nana, Zeus, and possibly any unattended gardening utensils that may stand in his way. Remember my mentioning the plot is hoary? Keith's here to play back up; he's the conflict that Beth and Logan are bound to overcome, much more than any old garden variety faux paus weirdness about a picture and fate.

One of two shots in the trailer i caught of Ben. Possibly because their "FROM THE WRITER OF THE NOTEBOOK" sales pitch is a bit more easy to sell than "TWO PEOPLE HAVE SEX AND CELEBRATE BY GETTING CLOSER TO A CHILD IN THEIR LIVES." .... You know, that's awkwardly phrased.

Unfortunately, he's not much of an obstacle. In fact, in the entire film, Keith is the only character who seems to successfully grow as a person, realizing that he's a failure of a dad who needs to stand up and be responsible for his actions. Ben almost gets an arc as he comes out of his shell, but the climax of the film, which really service's Keith's ability to do something right for once in his life (hint: he may or may not die), ensures that Ben's going to take a big swig out of the same PTSD bucket that everyone else is nipping from.

But you didn't read this review to hear about Keith or even Ben, who's that child parents always pretend they have but never do because they don't actually exist. No, you want to hear about the hot and sweaty romance between Logan and Beth.

"Do they make sweet tender love?" you may be asking. "Does anyone squeeze one of Beth's boobs at some point and it make a honking sound?" you may also be asking.

To the latter one, no, you're looking for the Three Stooges review from last week. And if it seems like I'm having trouble taking this movie seriously, it may be because this movie takes itself so seriously that I'm trying to ramp up my own level of fun in order to refrain from its special recipe for dreary.

When I called to the image of China dolls earlier, I wasn't trying to exaggerate. Logan's trauma in war has reconfigured the likeable Efron into a robot, devoid of those things we humans refer to as 'feelings'. Now, a good actor with good direction can take a tightass unemotional soldier who is broiling with lustful abandon and deliver something compelling. With Logan, unfortunately, what you see is what you get. Efron can flex his pecks and frown with displeasure, but there's no sense of a human beneath those layers for most of the film.

As much as I love watching the arousing adventures of Perfect Man Seduction Robot 008... wait, I suppose I don't. Logan's PTSD is largely ignored, and while he manages to reconnect with humanity, it's in such patly contrived ways that the movie never gets it past that it's only incidental. For the main character in our story, reconnection should be life shattering! Here it's background noise.

Look, we're peering in on him. See, the director put objects in the foreground; this is a *good* movie!

That's still somewhat better than what Beth gets, because while Logan's hamfisted redemption comes from sex and Ben (mutually exclusive, I assure you), Beth's comes exclusively from her want of Logan. When she finally gets over her initial distaste of him, she's immediately head over heels and obedient. The only thing between them is Keith, and that never really seems to get to her much either.

So the romance is less bubbly than it is a bust; the lead couple is too nice to ever have anything truly bad happen to them. Beth's temperamental neurosis meets Logan's war scars and it's off to smiles and splashing in the creek for everyone to live happily happily.

Much of the atmosphere that fogs up the works is a wet blanket of a pop rock soundtrack so whisper-sweet sincere it's enough to make most anyone wretch. I think I may owe October Baby a bit of an apology; I thought it's incessant reliance on montage and bland music was an exception rather than some sort of apparent rule.

But, see, the thing that is interesting about this movie (finally getting to it after 1200 words is always fun) is the way it doesn't pretty things up. Now, keep in mind, the entire film is framed like it came pre-ordered from an antique market: charmingly eclectic but coated in a sunny sheen. But under the surface, where all of the previously-mentioned mental issues lie, comes an interesting political discourse at the heart of Beth and Logan's affair.

Oh poor dumb Keith, even if you're the only one with a genuine character arc, you're still a pretty dull villain.

The film is essentially an anti-government parable, as we see Logan devoted to an unwinnable war out of camaraderie rather than duty. Beth sees her closest relative head off and experiences the same loss as Logan-- they're both together in their sense of mourning against this incomprehensible conflict. Factoring in Keith's convenient position in power that allows him to make wild threats with abandon, and the film's spirit is less with the advertised romance and more of a story of staying together and solving our problems through communion and understanding.

War is horrible, and we can't understand it. Love is wonderful, and we can't understand it. I'm still writing about this movie, and I can't understand it.

I wish the connection had been stronger. Efron's a fun, lively presence... well, in most movies other than this one, and Schilling does alright with what she's got. If love is a many splendored thing, this certainly ain't it.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. This movie just plain and simply blows. Everything here is cheesy, schmaltzy, and basically the same exact thing we see in all of those other piece of crap Sparks adaptations. Don’t kid yourself Danny, you know this movie is crap. Good review bud.

    • I’m fighting it! It looks nice! I like Zac Efron when he’s not in this movie! I… I wasn’t angry after I left the theater!

      … God, maybe this was a dislike and I just didn’t want to admit it.

  2. An anti-government parable haha. Oh my.

    Chalk your review as something no one else will have to say about The Lucky One.

    I warned you.

    • That the film *says* this is interesting, but unsurprising. That may be the reason (spoiler) that Keith gets it in the end, to make sure that the human side of the governmental structure gets its comeuppance for its impertinence.

      I don’t think it’s violently opposed to government, but it speaks to the idea that we’ve lost all meaningful connection to the apparatus of state. Any movie that’s made about Iraq/Afghanistan carries bits of this, which I find interesting, especially in comparison to proto-Conservative tomes like Avengers which (I assume) advocate turning over our freedoms to a small group of people with wealth and privilege (AKA superpowers).

      These are interesting times we live in. And, frankly, thinking about this and what pathetic depths romantic dramas have sunk to were the only food for thought in the entire flick.

      And I warned YOU! (why are we warning each other?)

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