Since the publication of “The Notebook” back in 1996, Nicholas Sparks has written 15 more novels about romance, and, as you would expect, a number of them have been adapted for the silver screen. Unfortunately the critics who make the big bucks must not like romantic movies because they have pretty much verbally lambasted the films based upon Sparks’ books.
The most recent film inspired by a Sparks novel to fall victim to the acid ink of the critics is “The Lucky One,” starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, and Blythe Danner. Although this film certainly isn’t Academy Award material by any stretch of the imagination, it also isn’t as bad as many of the reviews make it out to be. In fact, it is a very acceptable date movie despite its familiar plot and predictable ending.
The film opens in Iraq, where Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Efron) is serving his third tour of duty. As he his surveying the rubble surrounding him, he spots a photograph, and just as he bends over to pick it up, an explosion occurs behind him. If he had not picked up the picture at that moment, he would have been killed. The picture is of an attractive blonde woman, and on the back of it are he words “Be safe.” Visible in the far background of the photo is a lighthouse. Logan holds onto the picture because he considers it his good luck charm.
When Logan returns home to Colorado, he has trouble adjusting to life in the house of his brother’s family because the horrors of war continue to haunt him. After spending a few restless days there, he begins searching the Internet for the lighthouse in the background of the picture and finds one that matches it in Louisiana. He then decides that he must find the mysterious woman in photo and thank for saving his life, and so, accompanied by his German shepherd, Zeus, he sets out for the Bayou country.
His quest ultimately leads him to the town of Hampton, La., and when he shows the photograph to the patrons in a local bar, one of them says the woman’s name is Beth and that she operates a boarding kennel and training center for dogs on the outskirts of town. And when Logan arrives at the kennel, low and behold there is the woman in the photograph.
Beth, who is conveniently divorced, lives on the premises with her young son, Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), and her grandmother, Ellie (Danner). When she first meets Logan, Beth thinks that he has come to apply for the job that’s available at the kennel, but when she realizes that is not his intention, she becomes suspicious of him and dismisses him. But before he can leave, he runs into Ellie, and she hires him.
Now it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure out how things develop from here, and, of course, we need to add to the mix a jealous ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson) to complete the classic love triangle.
You won’t find anything original about the story in this movie, and you won’t see any surprises. But what you will view is a nicely acted love story that will give you hope that nice things still do happen to good people and that perhaps there really is such a thing as destiny. In the film’s production notes director Scott Hicks explained what he liked about the story.
“That premise immediately drew me in: the notion that a chance event — finding a photo in the middle of nowhere — could change not only one man’s life, but the lives of everyone he comes into contact with, really hooked me at the outset. The idea of destiny is quite central, and I liked that it’s treated in a very realistic fashion.”
Also in the production notes, Efron concurred that he liked the idea of destiny in the story and also revealed that he had doubts about playing the part of Logan and how traveling to Camp Pendleton to talk with Marines helped him prepare for the role.
“That’s what you hope love is, destiny. You want it to be meant to be. It often feels like it is. Why can’t it be? And that’s what’s so intriguing about the story.
“Initially I wasn’t convinced I could pull this off, but the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to Scott, I realized if there was ever going to be a chance to play a role so different from what I’ve played before, this was it. I knew I had to put in the work to be able to play Logan, and I felt capable in Scott’s hands.
“When I got there, it was like stepping into a different world. They stood with a purpose. They had laser focus, never broke eye contact. This is my generation, on the front lines. They’ve experienced some pretty gruesome things. We sat and talked for several hours and they were the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had with anybody. In terms of research, it was priceless. I can’t thank them enough. The stories and personal feelings they shared became part of the canvas for Logan.”
Of course for any love story to work on the big screen, the key word is chemistry, and Efron and Schilling definitely have it. You can both see and the feel the undeniable attraction between their two characters from the moment they lay eyes on each other, and the electricity simply escalates from there. This actually is Schilling’s first major part in a film, and she definitely proves herself equal to the task. You may recall seeing her in “Mercy,” an entertaining TV series about an unorthodox nurse who had served in Iraq.
Danner, who is the consummate professional, is outstanding as Beth’s irrepressible grandmother, and Ferguson is sufficiently despicable as the ex-husband who threatens to ruin Beth’s chance at happiness. Add to all of this some beautiful scenery and music, and result it a completely satisfactory date movie. Give it a final score of lucky seven.