Film is a manipulative art form. The reason a director positions his actors in a frame in a particular way, makes them say some lines with a certain inflection and later has the scene scored to one specific piece of music is so that she can manipulate you to achieve her intended effect. And that’s okay.
As an audience member, when I walk into any film I’m looking to be manipulated. Laughing, crying and being entertained are all results of successful manipulation. When Jonathan Levine shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt breaking down inside a car and telling his mother how he is tired of being sick, he is being manipulative, and not even subtly. When Woody Allen starts his movie with a slideshow of beautiful scenes from Paris, he’s being manipulative too. But those instances work for me completely because not only are they skilfully done, but there is a logic to them.
There is no logic to the manipulation in The Lucky One. Its flagrant use of clichés borders on exploitation and its disregard of believable human behavior just to create conflict is egregious.
The Lucky One opens with Sergeant Logan Thibault in Iraq. One day, he finds a photo of a woman lying in the ground and as he bends to pick it up, a mortar lands nearby, killing a few soldiers. Logan believes that the photo saved his life and decides to find the woman in it, thinking of her as his “lucky charm.” On coming back to his home in Colorado, he sets off to find her. Does he find her? Is she his one true love? Will they get together by the end? Do you care?
Will Seters wrote the screenplay off a Nicholas Sparks novel, and it’s just as maudlin and mawkish as you’d expect. It’s also extremely dunderheaded. Any good writer would tell you the importance of showing, not telling, your audience any important theme. In this film, you don’t see Logan come to believe the woman is his lucky charm. Another soldier spells it all out for him, being so blatant so as to include the term “guardian angel.” But, then, that’s not the only time the dialogue is bad. The Lucky One is an unabashed cheesefest, and the dialogue is full of gems like “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.”
The terrible writing extends to the characters, who are thinner than the paper they must have been written on. Yes, Logan is handsome, diligent, chivalrous and good with kids. He also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which the movie doesn’t treat as a severe anxiety disorder as much as another facet of the hero’s personality, making him troubled and torn and oh-so-intense. Beth, the “lucky charm,” is beautiful, caring and it’s obvious she and the hero are made for each other. But the worst is yet to come: Beth was married to Keith, the son of the town’s mayor and a grade-A bully, a character so cartoonish he robs the movie of whatever little realism it had. His first scene in the movie is so over-the-top and so shamelessly designed to make you despise him that I was a little stunned when it ended, not just at how bad it was but also how earnest a level it was played at. The various characters, interacting in ways as predictable as possible, lead the story to a climax that left me agape at just how visibly contrived it was.
The Notebook is also based on a Nicholas Sparks novel but it works because of the sheer talent of its performers. However, Zac Efron is no Ryan Gosling. The High School Music heartthrob gained 18lbs to play the role of an Iraq War vet and he’s given plenty of opportunities to flex his muscles. If he had only flexed his facial muscles half as much, his performance might have been decent. He plays Logan at the same pitch, same tone and with the same expression for 100min straight, which is kind of an amazing feat. He’s completely outshone by Taylor Schilling, who, while no Rachel McAdams herself, is actually good as Beth. She manages to convey the gamut of emotions her characters goes through adroitly. It’s easy to root for her. Jay R. Ferguson plays the unidimensional antagonist, and he gives it his all. It’s just that the character he’s been given is flat-out terrible. Blythe Danner is good as Beth’s grandmother but, then, her role requires no heavy-lifting of any kind.
As is common with most studio romantic dramas, The Lucky One is very prettily shot. Parts of it play out akin to a nature documentary, with dozens of shots of the natural utopia the characters live in. A lot scenes are shot during Magic Hour, which means if you have a fetish for seeing two gorgeous people cuddle and hug while the Sun’s rays ensconce them in a hug of its own, The Lucky One is just the movie for you.
But, if you don’t posses such a fetish, you would do well to stay away from The Lucky One. Even if you’re in the mood for escapist melodrama, there’s better stuff out there.