I think we’ve found a new classic: a movie that can stand as an example of what Hollywood does that is cynical, and yet a movie which is bad in ways that are silly rather than scary. The movie is based, perhaps inevitably, on a novel by Nicholas Sparks and is titled “The Lucky One.”
Sparks is known for sentimental romance—”The Last Song,” “Dear John,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “The Notebook,” “A Walk to Remember,” and “Message in a Bottle” are recent films based on his books. They are, despite their ratings, essentially soft core porn. “The Lucky One” features more than one scene of simulated copulation. It got a PG-13 rating, one suspects, because its obvious target audience is women.
Generally speaking Sparks’s stories are set in tourist-likely waterfront settings, though in quaint backwaters rather than cruise ship destinations. Some sort of complication—the more mysterious the better—keeps two lovers apart until the tear-drenched happy ending.
“The Lucky One” is like all the rest of these movies, set in cabin cruiser Louisiana where an ex-Marine walks—notice, he walks from Colorado after he has trouble adjusting at home to post-service life. He walks from Colorado to Louisiana. “I like to walk,” Logan (Zac Efron) explains.
His name is Thibault, so he ought to be right at home with the Cajuns. But the evil deputy pronounces his name “Thigh-bolt.” In actual fact, no one in this movie talks as if they were from the South, let alone from a Louisiana backwater. Blythe Danner, who pronounces words as she always has, seems as much a native as does anybody else in the film.
She plays the mother of attractive Beth (Taylor Schilling) who is divorced from Deputy Keith Clayton, the son of the local judge. Together they have a son, Ben, who is shy about his violin playing though not about anything else. Ben practices the fiddle in the Death Treehouse, about which I can’t tell you much without ruining the ending of the movie. Too bad. Its final deployment is an instance of classically implausible plotting.
Beth’s brother was a Marine, recently deceased in Iraq. Unbeknownst to her, Logan Thibault was around on the occasion when the heroic bro lost his life, though the two of them never met. The day after bro’s death, Logan found a picture on a dirt street. It was a photo of Beth, though it wasn’t labeled with her name. He has walked to Louisiana to find the girl in the picture and thank her for the good luck which followed him after he began carrying her picture.
But once granny gives Logan a job at the family kennel, he can’t bring himself to tell Beth about the pic. They fall in love. Deputy Clayton threatens her with a custody fight (divorced dads in the audience were laughing through their tears at that). What will happen to the romance? Who can’t predict what will happen in the movie’s last reel?
One of the things I found most delightfully bad about “The Lucky One” is its reliance on pop songs. Next year kids at college parties will play copies of the film as the basis of a drinking game: when a pop song plays, everyone has to drink; when Efron turns a wrench or hoists a feed sack, everyone has to guzzle.
Which leads us to the outstandingly and yet unintentionally comic climax. The sophomores will be intoxicated by the time the Death Treehouse figures. Fellows who go to this movie in the theater will only wish they were drinking as the incident appears on the big screen.
From now on whenever I have to explain to someone how Hollywood relies on emotional formulas to sell tickets, no matter how weak or implausible the events invented to plug into the formulas, I’m going to refer back to “The Lucky One.” I’m lucky to have the example.