At the beginning of my Nights in Rodanthe review, I posed a question - If the same basic story has already been told, does it really deserve to be told again?
It's a fair question about the romance novels penned by Nicholas Sparks, as they mostly regurgitate the same story over and over again. Even worse, Hollywood has been spewing film adaptations to the masses of women who swoon over his tales of love and untimely loss. Don't get me wrong - The Notebook and A Walk to Remember are fantastic romantic dramas; their plots were engaging and the actors and actresses had great on-screen chemistry. Ever since though, Hollywood has been banking on their target demographic going to theaters in droves to see any film that has Sparks' name attached to it. As a result, we've been treated to sloppy films with uninspired casts that were hired for no other reason than looking good in front of a camera. Nights in Rodanthe may have reunited Diane Lane and Richard Gere, but the filmmaker failed to make their on-screen romance sizzle. Channing Tatum, who couldn't act his way out of a pre-school production about tooth decay, single-handedly sunk Dear John. Miley Cyrus was miscast in The Last Song, though the week plot didn't help much either. Nope, Hollywood execs get big dollar sign blinders in their eyes whenever Sparks' name is involved, so they've turned his works into a soulless cinematic enterprise, pushing out films just for the sake of money. With all in this in mind, you'll have to forgive me if I was skeptical that The Lucky One could actually deliver, as it continues Hollywood's misguided tradition by throwing teen heartthrob Zac Efron into the mix.
Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) is a Marine on his third tour of duty in Iraq, and we're introduced to this character as he's trying to survive a night raid. He watches another platoon get pulverized by the enemy, but he lives to see another day. The next morning, Logan finds the picture of a beautiful young woman nearly buried in the sand. Just then, a mortar strikes exactly where he was standing moments before retrieving the photo. Some months later, Logan is coincidentally the sole survivor or yet another enemy attack. This leads Logan to believe that this photo, which has 'keep safe x' written on the back, is somehow responsible for saving his life time and time again.
Time fast forwards again, this time revealing a Logan that's having trouble adjusting to normal everyday life. Sounds of clanking suitcases and violent sounds from video games remind him of the horrors he witnessed in battle, and this keeps him constantly on edge. Worse yet, his behavior is estranging him from his family. Lost and feeling as if the war has isolated him from society, Logan just wants to end up somewhere he can feel like he truly belongs. The only thing he knows for certain anymore, is that he needs to find the girl in the photo and thank her for saving his life.
Recognizing a landmark in the photo, Logan packs up and treks on foot from Colorado to Louisiana. Upon his arrival he immediately begins asking the locals if they know who she is, and his diligence is rewarded with a name - Beth Clayton (Taylor Schilling). Logan shows up at her privately owned dog kennel the next day, but can't find the words to explain why he's come all the way from Colorado just to see her. Beth figures he's come looking for work, so he's eventually hired to train animals and fix up the place. Beth is apprehensive around Logan for a while; she half thinks he's crazy, walking all the way from Colorado just to end up working in a dog kennel. However, Beth's grandmother (Blythe Danner) insists all she sees in Logan is a fine young man who doesn't dilly dally with his work. In fact, he's more of a miracle worker than they expected, as he's fixed broken down tractors that have long since been out of commission and seems to be an expert at handling animals. Logan eventually earns the affection of Beth's son and grandmother, and this opens Beth's heart and marks the beginning of their fateful romance. No great love goes untested though, and theirs will prove to be no different as Beth's ex-husband, Sheriff Keith Clayton (Jay R. Ferguson), isn't afraid to flaunt his badge in order to scare Logan off. When it becomes blatantly clear that Logan isn't going anywhere, Keith then threatens to take Beth's son away. This leaves her in between a rock and a hard place - Does Beth stay with Logan and risk losing her son, or does she lose the love of a lifetime in order to keep her family intact?
Now, down to business: Just as I had feared, Zac Efron was stiff as a board. Mere seconds after the film begins, we're treated to his opening narration, and I couldn't help but chuckle after execution of the first line. To me, it sounded like he was doing his best vampy Edward (Twilight) impression. For sure, Zac Efron is much better served on-screen than in a sound booth, but even that's being somewhat generous. His facial expression almost never breaks a solemn faced mold, and the few times he's supposed to speak with conviction, he's painfully unconvincing. Fortunately though, the rest of the cast is so charming and endearing (minus the Sheriff by design), that they seemed to lend a great deal of credibility to Efron's character. Because of Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner and even young Riley Thomas Stewart (as Ben, Beth's son), there was more than enough chemistry to go around. Furthermore, Jay R. Ferguson was quite effective as the antagonist - As soon as I was introduced to him, I already knew I wasn't going to like him. As the film progressed, he did a fantastic job at making me grow to hate him and then some. Without all these stellar performances, The Lucky One could just have easily been 'The Un-Lucky One', but they've made this film worth my while. That's saying a lot considering how obviously biased I am against recent Sparks adaptations.
And I'll even take it a step further - Overall, I actually enjoyed The Lucky One. This is the first time since The Notebook that I've actually cared about the characters, rooted for the budding relationship to blossom, and wasn't bothered by all the typical clichés. Yes, the script and direction both seem to favor heavy doses of melodrama, and the lovey dovey dialogue has a tendency to be so sweet it's syrupy. Combined with the fact that the Logan character is seemingly the perfect man in every perceivable way, these factors make the romance feel more like a fantasy than something we can actually relate to. I know women probably love the escapism a film like this is able to provide, but I'd much rather see a film break out of the typical conventions of romantic drama. The Lucky One doesn't do that, but it does break away from the typical Sparks conventions. The most important deviation from the Sparks formula is the ending - I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say I was sick of becoming invested in Sparks' characters over the years, only to see someone die nearly every time. The Lucky One does present us with a bit of tragedy in the home stretch, but the aftermath is far more favorable than I had anticipated.
The Lucky One isn't going to be everyone's lucky ticket. Some people just aren't 'wired' to watch sappy love stories with excessive amounts of melodrama. I don't mind such films as long as they're done well, and The Lucky One seemed to keep me interested from beginning to end. It wasn't an earth shattering revelation to cinema or anything, but it had a wonderful cast outside of Efron and the director managed to maintain a wonderful pace. If you're looking for something to 'aww' with your girlfriend or wife about on date night, The Lucky One is probably the least offensive, recent offering you're going to find.
The Lucky One features a lot of gorgeous cinematography. Honestly, this film has some of the most naturally beautiful settings I've seen on film in a short while, and this 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) replicates them all splendidly. The outdoors are vivid and lifelike - The sun appropriately baths leafy and floral backdrops with warmth, and primary colors are beautifully rendered. Image clarity and depth are quite remarkable, and the film is sharp but not excessively so. There's some very minor ringing, but I'd be willing to wager some folks at home won't even notice it. Skin tones are natural, and the contrast is spot on for the most part. Throughout most of the film, black levels are stunning as they allow shadows to exist without erasing the detail that rests beneath. There are some shots/scenes where black crush creeps into the mix a little, but this is probably due more to artistic intent than an actual issue with the encode. DNR is nowhere to be seen, as the very subtle texture of grain remains untouched, and there's no banding or digital artifacting to worry about either. Regardless as to whether you love or hate the film, you're likely to stare in awe at some of the beauty that it has to offer (Taylor Schilling, included).
The Lucky One has received a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, and although it's not as impressive as other modern Hollywood flicks, that really has more to do with the sound design itself and not a poor encode. As a romantic drama, the dialogue is obviously the focus and has been replicated flawlessly. The music comes through full force on all channels, the action at the very beginning of the film seems to spread itself across the surround stage with pinpoint precision, and the rest of the film utilizes the rears for environmental ambience. The LFE output is respectable - It provides warmth to the music and adds a bit of punch when required (which isn't very often), but never oversteps the soft and gentle experience the film aims for most of the time. The Lucky One may not be a stunner in the audio department, but it's more than adequate for the kind of film it is.
The studio seemingly knows they can no longer place a lot of time or effort into supporting Nicholas Sparks film adaptations after they've left the theater, as there's very little offered on this disc:
-Zac Efron Becomes a Marine
-Watch the Sparks Fly - The Romantic World of The Lucky One
-Zac and Taylor's Amazing Chemistry
The titles are all self explanatory and only amount to less than 20 minutes worth of supplemental material. I also can't forgive the shameless 'chemistry' featurette, because Taylor was the one who created the chemistry for them both. Zac was lucky enough to have such a wonderful co-star, because if Beth was just as inappropriately cast as Logan was, this film would have sunk in a heartbeat.
Despite my disdain for any Hollywood film after The Notebook that had Nicholas Sparks' name attached to it, I actually found The Lucky One to be rather enjoyable. It's not great and I probably would be stretching the truth if I said it was 'really good'. The Lucky One is really quite average overall, but let's take other genre efforts into consideration - I find most of them to be absolutely dreadful, so far me to say a romantic drama is 'average' and that I enjoyed it from beginning to end, must say something about the film's execution. After all, I started this review being about as negative as could be, and now look at me - I'm actually saying this film is recommended. Zac Efron was painful to watch, but I loved the rest of the cast. My only caveat is that you consider what you're buying, as there's really nothing worthwhile in the way of supplemental material, but you will be wowed by the wonderful cinematography and just how well preserved it is on this release.