Lucky One, The: Scott Hicks’ Version of Nicholas Sparks, Starring Zac Efron

For a short period of time, around 1996-1997, Scott Hicks was one of the hottest filmmakers in the world, having directed Shine, which took Sundance Film Fest by storm, caused a bidding war for its theatrical release (New Line won), and eventually garnered Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, winning Best Actor for Geoffrey Rush.


Cut to a decade later, when the young actor Zac Efron was touted as Hollywood’s new heartthrob (the Next Big Thing), a matinee idol with special appeal for female viewers.

“Something went wrong” in the careers of both Hicks and Efron and neither, albeit for different reasons, has fulfilled the promise and of making it big in Hollywood (which is a subject for another piece).

Hicks and Efron join forces in the romantic melodrama, The Lucky One, based on the best-seller by Nicholas Sparks, still best known for writing “The Notebook,” which became a smash hit due to the erotic scenes between Ryan Gosling and Rachel MacAdams.

“Lucky One,” just as “The Notebook,” will divide critics right in the middle.  Though “The Notebook” grossed more than $80 million at the domestic box-office, according to the Rotten Tomatoes meter, about half of the film’s reviews were negative.

Efron, who has physically matured, plays Logan Thibault, a U.S. Marine Sergeant returning from his third tour of duty in Iraq.  He claims that the “one thing” that kept him alive was accidentally finding a photograph, half buried in the sand, of a beautiful woman he doesn’t know.

Returning to the States, Logan, like many other war vets, is unable to fit back in with his own family. More importantly, he is also unable to shake his curiosity about the mysterious woman in the photo who inadvertently saved his life. To locate her, Logan scours the internet to identify the lighthouse in the photo’s background, and finds the match.

Eager to know more about the femme’s identity, he finds out that her name is Beth Green (Taylor Schilling), and that she lives in Louisiana. Soon he embarks on a trek from Colorado to Louisiana, with his loyal dog (and best friend) Zeus at his side.

Pulling courage, and motivated by endless curiosity, Logan shows up at her door one bright day, and before long, as things always happen in these sorts of stories, he gets a job at the local kennel owned by her family.

There would not have been a novel—and a movie—if the bond between Logan and Beth was love at first sight.  And indeed, true to the traditions of this genre, there are the expected mistrusts, tensions, arguments, and misunderstandings.

It’s to the credit of writer Will Fetters, who adapted Sparks’ novel to the screen, that he depicts several events in a rather involving, and not too shapely and predictable, yarn, as could have been the case.

Thus, despite initial hesitation and mistrust on Beth’s part, she begins seeing Logan and a romance develops between them, leading Logan to believe that not only they were fated for each other, but also that Beth amount to something more meaningful than his good luck charm.

Meanwhile, Beth’s ex-husband (Jay R. Ferguson), the town’s Deputy Sheriff, Keith Clayton, uses their son Ben as a pawn to intimidate and control Beth. Their interaction gets considerably worse when he jealously perceives Logan as an interloper in “his” family.

The crucial force behind the making of “The Lucky One” is vet producer Denise Di Novi, who had previously made several films out of Sparks novels, popular and commercial ones, such as “Message in a Bottle,” starring Kevin Costner, mediocre works, such as “Nights in Rodanthe,” with Diane Lane, and disappointing flicks like “A Walk To Remember.”

Sparks seems to be intrigued by such philosophical and existential issues as the role of destiny in our life, how fate shapes our motivations and conduct both consciously and subconsciously, random events that begin ordinary but turn out to bee extraordinary (and also the reverse), the mysterious nature of love, doomed romances despite hot passions, and so on.

Director Hicks claims that what drew him to the project is the basic premise of the narrative, “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.”

“The Lucky One” could have easily become too vague, opaque, and even pretentious, but instead, it turns out to be an intriguing and mysterious romance, at least in its first half, grounded in recognizable reality, and thus touching a chord in the hearts of youngsters who would like to believe that a single, random act could becomes a good luck charm and even change radically one’s life.

The hand of fate? The result of conscious decision? The operation of random events or miscalculations?  Here is a new mystery for Nicholas Sparks’ followers to resolve.

The second half of the narrative, especially the last reel, is less compelling, as the filmmakers wish to go beyond a romantic soap opera and tackle such issues as self-discovery, personal redemption, and the healing power of true love.

Efron, who has always benefited from appealing looks, shows some improvement as an actor and greater physical maturity, but he still does not fully command, as real movie stars should–and do.  No doubt, it’s a step in the right direction, but I can only speculate how Ryan Gosling would have interpreted his part.

Even so, there is nice rapport between Efron and Taylor Schilling, a talented dramatic actress, who portrays vividly a single mom, with all the pain, loneliness, and vulnerability involved.

I have not seen “Mercy,” her TV drama series, or her screen debut, “Dark Matters,” but look forward to her appearance as Ben Affleck’s wife in the C.I.A. feature, “Argo.”

The lovely Blythe Danner is splendid as Beth’s mother, who hires Logan, against odds and against objections.  In the 1980s, Danner was one of the hottest, most in demand actresses.  Her performance as Tracy Lord in the Broadway remake of “The Philadelphia Story” was superb. Danner, blessed with the right looks and terrific voice, also never became a major star