April 20, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE LUCKY ONE:  Watch It At Home – Not If The One Is In The Audience


Zac Efron has been working out, and he wants you to know it.  Efron’s new biceps and abs are on frequent display in THE LUCKY ONE, often shiny with sweat and otherwise photographed by director Scott Hicks and cinematographer Alar Kivilo to be photogenically glowing.  Look how adult he is! seems to be the message of each of these shots.  What a romantic leading man!  The Lucky One marks Efron’s attempt to shift himself from teen idol into the Channing Tatum territory of Dear John and The Vow, but he still has some growing up to do.

Like Dear John (and The Notebook, and The Last Song, and Message In A Bottle, and Nights in Rodanthe, and A Walk To Remember), The Lucky One is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks.  Sparks writes very successful, slightly upscale versions of Harlequin romances, where brawny yet sensitive men court lovely, spirited women, but some Terrible (sometimes Fatal) Secret keeps them apart.  The only variation in type is whether the characters are weathered by life but still beautiful (Rodanthe and Bottle), or caught in the clutch of first love (the rest).  

 The Lucky One leans on the first love side of Sparks’ ledger, although the protagonists have had a bit of life experience.  Logan (Efron) is a Marine serving in Iraq who attributes his survival in a firefight to finding a photo of a beautiful woman labeled “Be Safe” when the shooting started.  When he gets back to the US, he tracks down the woman in the photo as Beth (Taylor Schilling), who lives in Louisiana, and he walks with his dog all the way from his home in Colorado all the way there to find her.  Beth, as it turns out, operates a dog kennel, and despite some pride issues, she has need of some help from someone who’s good with canines.  So that works out pretty neatly.

Beth also has other issues, of course.  She’s grieving for her brother (he was, we soon learn, the soldier who’d been carrying her picture).  She has a font-of-wisdom grandmother (Blythe Danner, playing Betty White), and a young son (Riley Thomas Stewart).  And for purposes of plot complicataion, the boy’s father and Beth’s ex is the local sheriff (Jay R. Ferguson), who has a rich and demanding family, a lot of local clout, and a heavy dose of jealousy that’s soon aimed in Logan’s direction.

This is one of those movies where if one character just had a straight conversation with another, we could all cut to the last reel and go home.  But instead, Logan makes cow eyes at Beth and doesn’t tell her about the photo or her brother, while she gradually gets worn down by his goodness and gleaming body (not necessarily in that order), until she finally allows herself to fall for him, and his story can come out at the worst possible time and lead to a climactic crisis.

In real life, Taylor Schilling is only 3 years older than Efron, which fits the storyline, since she’s had time to be married and divorced and have a child.  But Schilling projects a world-weary, lived-in persona, and that combines badly with Efron’s on-screen callow puppyhood–there’s a Mrs. Robinson dynamic to their relationship that probably wasn’t intended.  Efron is a very likable performer (he’s quite funny in Josh Radnor’s upcoming Liberal Arts), but as much as he squints his eyes, fingers the stubble on his cheeks and tries to look macho, he hasn’t quite shaken movie high school off his boots, and as a result, the romance feels even more like a swoony fantasy than the plot requires.  Schilling, meanwhile, is well on her way to making an odd habit out of being the best thing in bad projects, having preceded this with TV’s Mercy and Atlas Shrugged.  She’s a very strong, zesty actress (the movie’s best scenes are the early ones where she’s resisting Logan’s charm), who can carry off the melting-into-romance too, but Efron just isn’t a match for her at this point in his career.

 The Lucky One is a smooth piece of work.  Scott Hicks, although he’s come a long way downward from the days of his Oscar winner Shine, knows how to put a movie together, and once you accept the cardboard dramatics of the storyline, Will Fetters’ script carries some momentum through a relatively swift 101 minutes.  Schilling and Efron are lovely to look at, Blythe Danner is a pro, and fans of the Nicholas Sparks oeuvre won’t feel themselves ill-used.  Those who wander into the theatre without being part of the Sparks brigade, though, are likely not to feel so fortunate.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."