To a certain kind of filmgoer—okay, a certain kind of female filmgoer—Nicholas Sparks films are cinematic comfort food.
With the exception of The Notebook—which came closest to approximating the rhythms and cadences of an actual movie—the films based on his books are bland, easy to digest, and virtually interchangeable. And what could be more comforting than that?
We have our beautiful boy and girl. We have an appealing setting (a beach house, a resort town, a funky dog kennel in the North Carolina countryside). We have a powerful attraction (rarely made believable by the script—Sparks believes that beautiful people should be together simply because they are beautiful, and who am I to argue?). We have the thing that drives them apart ™ . Then we have a little rush of action/melodrama toward the end. And finally we have our happy ending (or sad mushy ending cause occasionally the thing that drives them apart ™ is leukemia or somethin’). (Sad face.)
The actresses who appear in these films are often music stars trying to show-off their cinematic chops, like Mandy Moore and Miley Cyrus, or on-the-rise ingenues (like Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried). And the actors are the B-list male stars who embrace their identities as female fantasy objects (Channing Tatum, Shane West, now Zac Efron). (How Josh Duhamel has not appeared in one these suckers is one of the great mysteries of our time.)
A lot of one’s enjoyment of these films depends on how willing you are to gaze upon the male or female lead.
Not gonna lie: I could gaze at Zac Efron’s dreamy abs—I mean eyes! I mean eyes!—all day long. That being said, it’s hard to find much to recommend about The Lucky One to someone who doesn't derive a similar pleasure.
His co-star is Taylor Schilling, who I’d never heard of before but she looks kind of like a cross between Mary Stuart Masterson and Kristen Bell, and she’s perfectly appealing, albeit perhaps a little too old for Zac, who’s playing a marine but seems more like the hunky paper boy she takes advantage of. (FYI: Efron apparently went to boot camp and gained several pounds of muscle to play the part. I find his Stanislavski-style dedication to a film this lightweight positively adorable.)
Here’s the plot, if I must: In the rubble of Iraq, Efron’s Logan finds a picture of a beautiful woman inscribed with the words “Be Safe” and he comes to believe that the photo is the lucky charm that kept him out of harm’s way during the war.
When he gets back stateside, he is determined to find and thank his guardian angel. Her name is Beth and she’s running the aforementioned kennel in North Carolina. She has a precocious son; a free-spirited grandmother (Blythe Danner), an artsy type who wears clogs and paints landscapes; and a glowering ex-husband, a cop with a—wait for it—dangerously bad temper.
Logan gets a job as a kennel assistant and he’s like the perfect man—hard working, hard abs, loves dogs, knows how to fix a roof and a tractor, doesn’t say much. Logan tries to tell Beth a hilarious number of times about the photo, but either there’s some sort of contrived distraction (like a telephone call) or he just can’t find the right words. “If I told you, there’d be no movie,” he says at one point. (Okay, he doesn’t really say that, but wouldn’t it be awesome if he did?)
And well. . .damned if those crazy kids don’t fall in love.
I didn’t hate The Lucky One and I didn’t love it. But I watched it and it felt familiar and easy and, yeah, strangely comforting. If only I had been able to bring a pint of Haagen Dazs and my pink fuzzy slippers into the theater, my evening would have been complete.