Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One takes a story that is hyper-relevant and drowns it in stultifying sentimentality and a soap-appropriate soundtrack.
Zac Efron stars as Logan, a marine veteran who, after a night-raid results in heavy loss of life, becomes fixated on a photograph of a girl he finds on the ground. In fact, in reaching for the photo, he avoids being blown up himself and he takes it as his token through the war.
He survives – he’s the lucky one. Upon returning home with his best buddy’s dog tags around his neck, Logan displays an array of classic PTSD symptoms; he ducks at loud noises from video games and tries to strangle his nephew when he leaps on him in bed. With recent statistics putting the veteran suicide rate in the US at 1 every 80 minutes, a film showing a marine’s attempt to find a way past his experiences could not be more pertinent or important. Logan’s job now is to survive having survived. He goes in search of the girl in the photo.
Finding Taylor Shilling’s Beth, a single mother with a menacing ex-husband in need of help with her Dog Kennel business, Logan sets about making himself useful. Beth lives on the edge of a small town. Her son is cute (with extra smarts). Crucially for Logan, eight-year-old Ben likes chess and violin-practice rather than video games.
Efron and Shilling play two people holding their grief at bay and quietly finding their way towards each other. The pair demonstrate a laudable self-possession that doesn’t veer into melodramatic slush too much more than the script dictates.
The former High School Musical star is clearly seeking a transformative role; he’s beefed up considerably and puts in a strong performance as a marine sergeant (aided by tattoos and a lot of “yes ma’ms”). Yet what’s interesting is that the incongruence of Zac Efron™ pretending to be a marine veteran with three tours under his belt at twenty-five is what ends up resonating the most after the film ends.
It really could be anyone of that generation (had Efron not been conscripted by Disney at a tender age it could have been him) who for any one of a myriad of reasons decided the military was the place to find purpose.
The problem with The Lucky One is that it doesn’t know what its offering. It ticks all The Notebook’s boxes without noticing that the heart of the film is far quieter and richer than its forerunner. It then sacrifices its emotional honesty by trying to tie up the ending far too neatly.
Unfortunately when the subject matter is something that is coming to define a generation, losing oneself in the “Nicholas Sparksiness” of it becomes both more difficult and less satisfying.
Released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 2nd May 2012 by Warner Bros. Pictures.
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