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Thursday, April 26, 2012 06:40 pm

Lucky tripped up by Sparks


Taylor Schilling as Beth Clayton and Zac Efron as Logan Thibault in The Lucky One.

I have a theory about adaptations of Nicholas Sparks’ novels. Give a script of any one of his novels to a budding filmmaker and if they can successfully make a movie from it, then that’s a director to watch. If they can’t, well….

With seven films based on his best-selling novels, there’s only one worth seeing, The Notebook. Another is a near-miss, Message in a Bottle. All the rest are also-rans, movies undercut by their source material as they contain such contrived circumstances and overly romantic interludes that only filmmakers and actors with the most deft touch are able to bring a degree of plausibility to them. The latest in the seemingly never-ending parade of Sparks’ film adaptations comes close to succeeding until it too falls victim to the author’s syrupy conventions.

While the The Lucky One appears to be timely, with its inclusion of an Iraq War veteran, what drives it has been propelling love stories for as long as they’ve been around. Zach Effron is Logan, a soldier who’s survived three tours of duty and believes that a picture of an angelic blonde he found while in battle is his good luck charm. With the words “Be Safe” on the back and the fact that he’s still in one piece, who could blame him for thinking this, or for trying to find out whom the guardian angel in the picture is. Using the Internet to help identify the lighthouse that’s in the background (How did people in the movies ever find out anything before the invention of the Internet?), Logan sets out for Louisiana where he’s able to track down Beth (Taylor Schilling), a luminous woman who’s conveniently single and happens to have a son (Riley Thomas Stewart) who’s as cute as a puppy dog… under a wagon… in a rainstorm.

It’s picture perfect and there’s even a wise mother figure (Blythe Danner) on hand to deliver sage advice in a wry manner, which is only cute if you’re over 65 years of age. Any younger and you’re likely to get punched in the nose. That reminds me that there’s a bully thrown into the mix in the person of Keith (Jay R. Ferguson), a local cop who happens to be Beth’s ex and who doesn’t take kindly to the fact that Logan is making goo-goo eyes at her and has the temerity to act like a father around his son, who he has no problem using as a pawn when it suits him.

I find stories such as these maddening. The singular conflict that lies at their core could be so easily resolved with a simple conversation, yet a series of erroneous circumstances continue to occur which prevents this from happening. Why doesn’t Logan tell Beth about finding her picture and his reason for seeking her out? Oh, he can’t get a word in edgewise, that’s it. Wait, no it’s that he’s so dumbstruck by her beauty he’s unable to speak. Or could it be that Sparks knows that if this were to occur too early he’d have no dramatic tension? I think that’s closer to the mark. Had Logan been upfront from the start, yet continued to woo Beth, it would have made for a more honest and emotionally engaging film.

I realize that with The Lucky One we’re not dealing with pseudo-reality but rather wish fulfillment, which is part of what makes the movies such an enduring and endearing art form. This sort of catharsis via cinematic surrogate is no different than the sort of action films men flock to where they can put themselves in the shoes of the indefatigable and ever resourceful hero who saves the day while cracking wise and getting the girl. Being rescued from your mundane life by a dreamboat has a similar appeal. However, while I’m sure that I’ll never have my own personal Die Hard moment, I’d be willing to bet that love stories in which unusual circumstances have played a part have happened. Were Sparks to tell his tales in a way that reflected the magic that propelled these real-life stories instead of using his calculated formula, the emotions elicited would be far more genuine than those his treacle-ridden tales extract.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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