There have been seven adaptations of novels by author Nicholas Sparks thus far, with more on the drawing board. I’ve seen four of the six previous offerings and the formula was the same in all. Man and woman meet through unusual or extraordinary circumstance. There is chemistry between them very quickly. There is tragedy involved at some point. There is loss involved at some point.
The question becomes, do the people who are taking the vision of Sparks and bringing it to the big screen manage to get the maximum mileage from this formulaic story he recycles?
The answer here is that director Scott Hicks, best known for his 1996 effort Shine, which brought the Oscar home for Best Actor Geoffrey Rush, does better than most with The Lucky One… but doesn’t quite hit the ball out of the park.
He’s aided by the quality work of Zac Efron, who is trying (and succeeding) to demonstrate he can rise above the typical tween fare he’s been relegated to thus far in his big screen work.
Efron is “Logan”, a Marine who at age 25 is a Sergeant and on his third tour of duty when he spots something shiny on the morning after a night raid. He goes over to see what has caught his attention and finds a photograph of an attractive woman. By moving from where he was, he avoids certain death as a mortar round explodes right where he’d been an instant before. When this photo becomes his good luck charm (a notion explored in much more detail in the Sparks novel), he vows that if he manages to survive, he will find this woman and thank her for saving him and making him the titular character.
The woman is Taylor Schilling as “Beth,” a single mother living in a small town in Louisiana with her mother and her son. Her ex-husband is a local deputy sheriff who continually threatens to take custody of her son away from her. Since his father is the local judge, who also happens to be campaigning for Mayor, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine him doing just that. She and her mother run a dog kennel where they board and care local pets, in addition to training them.
Logan tries life at home with his sister in Colorado, but when he has trouble adjusting to life without danger, he sets out on a journey with his own dog, Zeus, in order to find the woman he is convinced is the only reason he survived so many situations where he should not have lived.
When he finally locates Beth and tries to tell her why he’s there, before he can get the words out, she intuits that he’s there about a job opening she has for an assistant at the kennel. Soon he is hired by her mother (Blythe Danner in a delightful turn as “Ellie) and he finds shelter and employment near the woman he has been searching for. He tries another time to explain why he is there, but it just won’t come out.
Her ex-husband “Keith” (Jay R. Ferguson) doesn’t like the fact there’s a new man around Beth, especially when he isn’t that man. You can tell there will be conflict between Logan and Keith and someone’s going to get the short end of that stick when the two finally collide. Worse yet, Keith is the typically badge-heavy deputy one often finds in small Southern towns, so narrow-minded that his scratch pads are less than one inch wide. Beth has her own issues aside from dealing with her ex, for some reason she’s left the teaching career she apparently enjoyed. Her mother can no longer drive due to a mild stroke, so she has to drive her to and from her choir practices. Then there is Ben, her son.
She doesn’t like how Keith spends his time with Ben, believing he is not the best influence on him. Ben plays chess and the violin and isn’t the athlete his father was, and Keith is not pleased with this. However, Logan is clearly a positive influence on Ben, playing chess with him and encouraging his pursuit of music.
Hicks gets a lot from his cast, but there are story elements missing here. The amount of luck that Sparks gave his character in the novel didn’t make it onto the big screen. Neither are the reasons that Beth left teaching, or why she lets her ex dominate her so thoroughly when she’s a strong woman in so many other ways.
Had those elements been explored in more depth, The Lucky One would have been much more satisfying. Instead, at the conclusion, the viewer is left feeling like a restaurant customer who was never served the complete meal.