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Non-Review Review: The Lucky One

It’s hard not to feel a tad manipulated by The Lucky One, a story that seems to want to be about the relationship between fate (or chance) and choice. Following a veteran of a foreign conflict as he tries to adjust to life back home, trying to make sense of his survival in a war that claimed the lives of countless friends and colleagues, I don’t doubt that The Lucky One was intended as a profound meditation on those themes. However, what we end up with is a rather muddled romance that never truly gets off the ground thanks to a lackluster central performance from Zac Efron and some rather uncomfortable subtext.

Not quite picture perfect...

From the poster, the trailer, and the style of the film, it seems like a love story. Our lead character manages to survive a stray mortar bomb when he wanders from his post to pick up a photograph on the ground. When he gets home, he decides to find the woman in the photo and let her know that she – inadvertently – saved his life. After all, if he hadn’t seen that photograph, he would be dead. The basic premise is sound, even if the initial execution is a little stilted. Zac Efron doesn’t have the gravitas necessary to ground an opening monologue as we’re treated to the plot- and thematically-relevant image of a boat snaking down a river, but we forgive it this.

The problem arises when our soldier finds the woman in question. He cannot tell her about the photo. Now, communication errors provide the basis of any number of iconic romantic stories, from Romeo & Juliet through to more modern romantic comedies. At one point or another, one lead will need to tell the other lead something essential, but will fail to. Normally, it comes towards the climax, and the lead will be forced to re-evaluate their priorities and to finally open up emotionally to the object of their affection. In doing so, it allows for a happy ending. So, that’s pretty much as standard. The problem comes from the way that our former marine deals with his communications problem.

"Play that sad walking away music from the Incredible Hulk..."

He inserts himself into the life of this young woman, by taking a job at her animal hostel. Of course, it turns out that it was her brother who died in the war. Had the picture belonged to her deceased husband, our lead’s actions might seem predatory or sinister, as if he were trying to emotionally manipulate this young woman. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t lying to her or inserting himself into her life as a sort of creepy voyeurism, it just means that he appears less creepy. In fact, the movie seems so incredibly oblivious to the rather stalker-ish subtext that the entire movie becomes uncomfortable.

Over the next hour-and-a-bit, we discover our veteran has hidden depths. He spent a year at college, but didn’t graduate. So he’s smart, but not one of those pesky intellectuals. He reads philosophy, but humbly quotes from Dr. Seuss, so he’s well-read without being condescending about it. He’s good with animals, of course. He can play the piano. He has a knack with kids. In fact, the woman’s kid warms instantly to our wandering heart-throb, despite still caring a great deal about his biological father.

Somebody's obviously never seen Rambo...

Interestingly for a kid of eight or nine, the woman’s son doesn’t seem to mind too much about the marine becoming close to his mother, even though it would dash any chance of his family reuniting. I mean, the audience can see that his father is a power-mad jerk who only holds his position of authority due to nepotism, but kids don’t see the world that way. It’s funny that the subject never really comes up as our soldier seamlessly integrates himself into the family life of this small-town group.

The psychology of The Lucky One is practically non-existent. Characters do whatever they need to in order for the plot to unfold. There’s never a sense that any of these people exist as anything more than plot functions. The only person who sees that our marine is a little strange is the douchebag ex-husband, and his opinion is worth nothing. When our marine is affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s never inconvenient. He takes it out on his bratty video-game- and YouTube-obsessed nephews, while never showing a hint of it to the more in-touch-with-nature son of the object of his affection.

What a load...

Then again, there’s little about The Lucky One that isn’t a cliché or a cynical attempt to check off an item on the big “romantic movie” checklist. Slow motion love scenes? We got ’em. Lots of frisky activity while our leads are soakin’ wet? You betcha. Dealing with the third wheel in a way that doesn’t compromise either of our two leads? Certainly. Wise old relative with a kooky liberal outlook? Blythe Danner, I thought you knew better! Overwhelming musical score that doesn’t trust the cast or the direction to emote properly? Of course. Corny, hilarious “romantic” dialogue? “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.”

In fact, the script and direction are so weak that I feel bad blaming the cast for any of this. Still, Zac Efron does not make a convincing leading man, at least not in this role. There are several telling moments, most of which involve the character philosophising or attempting to emotionally connect with others, but the most telling come when he confronts the aggressive ex-husband. “I think you’d better let her go,” doesn’t sound like an ultimatum, but a gentle suggestion. “I’ve got nothing more to say to you,” he suggests at one point, but it sounds more like Efron forgot the next line than a bad-ass retort of itself.

It's written all over his back...

In fairness, Taylor Schilling does much better – especially considering that the movie seems to be most interested in her legs. She doesn’t have the instant charm that a romantic lead needs, but she seems far more comfortable than Efron. She doesn’t seem to be trying to act, if that makes sense – she’s more inside the skin of her character, while Efron doesn’t have a read on his. I know that the stereotype is the buttoned-down emotion-less marine, but Efron’s soldier might as well not be there.

The Lucky One is, unfortunately, a weak film. It’s a shame, because I’m quite the romantic at heart. However, there’s very little romantic to be found here, just a collection of conventions and clichés cynically and coldly exploited without an ounce of passion.

3 Responses

  1. Boy, your negative review is so well written that I almost want to go see this film. Tell me, is there any movie made from a book by Nicholas Sparks that is good?

  2. This review made me happy! I feel that people become blinded by the big names they put in these movies and never see these movies for the poor-quality excuses for film that they are.

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