Imagine you're a Marine, walking through a war-torn foreign country and discovering a photograph on the ground of a beautiful woman. Written on the back are the words "keep safe." You keep the photo, and after a few near-death experiences, you decide that this woman is your good-luck charm. When you finish your last tour, you return to the U.S. and set out to find this woman. You believe that thanking her for keeping you safe will help you move on from your own post-traumatic stress, mingled with the guilt you feel for staying alive when so many of your comrades did not. Once you find the woman, who owns a dog kennel in Louisiana, you can't seem to explain your story. Eventually, romance ensues while she remains in the dark about the photograph, and your real reason for finding her.
And there you have the plot of The Lucky One.
If it sounds like another cheesy Nicholas Sparks story, well, it is. I developed a begrudging kind of respect for films based on Sparks' novels after I sat through (read: sobbed through) The Notebook for the first time. I fell in love with the love story, because in so many ways, it felt tangible, real, and relatively un-cheesy. I watched two characters fall in love, argue, learn from each other, challenge each other, and bring a gentle, natural performance to the screen in a way that was both beautiful and believable. (Of course, having Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, two of today's finest actors, certainly helped.)
Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain The Notebook ruined any future films' chances, because since then, I have hated every other Sparks-sparked film I've seen. The Lucky One held promise, but in the end, it felt like too many other recent dumbed-down romantic films.
The formula had potential: Beautiful woman (Taylor Schilling), gorgeous ex-Marine (Zac Efron), cute little kid (Riley Thomas Stewart), quirky grandma (Blythe Danner), stunning cinematography, a breath-taking setting (Louisiana), an angry ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson), and dogs (dogs).
Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than a tidy formula to make lightning strike twice. The story's key element, the chance meeting and eventual relationship between Beth (Schilling) and Logan (Efron), falls flat—not because of bad acting, but because the story doesn't give their relationship room to breathe. Their chemistry together consists mostly of physical attraction, longing stares, a penchant for emotional breakdowns, and, well, lots of sex. The movie gives short shrift to their emotional development as a couple, save for an extensive musical montage of them spending time with Beth's son, Ben. As a single Christian female trying to develop a healthy view of relationships, I thought this movie added more unrealistic fantasies and unhealthy expectations to the "Emotional Girl Porn" industry of romantic films.
Honestly, if they had split up at the end of the film, I wouldn't have cared, because we don't get to know them. We live in a society that emphasizes the chase and the buildup of "getting together," but the development of a lasting relationship is undervalued—and The Lucky One doesn't help much on this front. Logan tells Beth she deserves to be kissed and that he came to "find her"; otherwise, there's no sharing of feelings, little talk of previous history, and no challenging conversations. Any conflict between them results in Logan walking away like a sad puppy. At times, he exemplifies a strong work ethic, patience, and chivalry, but he lacks backbone when it comes to this relationship. They spend so much time with their guards up, and Beth worries about the longevity of their relationship. It's hard to fall in love with a couple that can't discuss their feelings with each other.