The Lucky One

            Nicholas Sparks is one of the most popular, critically acclaimed, and prolific romance writers of the last decade.  “Message in a Bottle,” “Nights in Rodanthe,” “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook,” “The Last Song,” and “Dear John” have all made the bestseller list and have all been made into often bittersweet romantic motion pictures.  “The Lucky One” can now be added to that list.  What makes Mr. Sparks so successful is his ability to tell an idyllic romantic tale laced with all the gritty struggles and tragic stresses of modern life, with his hero and heroine not guaranteed to live happily ever after; in that sense, his novels often turn the romance genre on its head.            In “The Lucky One,” Logan returns from three tours of duty in Iraq suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.  Now that he is home, his mission is to thank the girl that unknowingly saved his life; she is pictured next to a lighthouse in a photo he stooped to pick up, an action that allowed him to avoid a deadly explosion.  He finds the lighthouse in Louisiana, which leads him to the girl, named Beth.  But Beth is suffering from her own demons as well:, her own brother was killed in Iraq, and she is terrorized by her ex-husband, a bullying deputy sheriff.  Can Logan and Beth overcome their own shortcomings and learn to love one another?            This is the lushly filmed story of “The Lucky One.”  Director Scott Hicks (“No Reservations”) is no stranger to the elements needed for cinematic romance, although he overdoes it here.  Coastal Louisiana in “The Lucky One” appears to be the most beautiful place to live, with dagger-like sunbeams cascading through the canopy of multi-colored trees shading stately ante bellum mansions and lazy, mud free bayous.  The lovers are always backlit, with golden sunlight haloing their faces; every camera shot is a Kodak moment, with brilliant light and vivid colors that leap off the screen more than any 3D special effect ever could.  No one ever perspires, let alone sweats, and no mosquito dares show its presence on the set.  It is thoroughly unbelievable to anyone remotely familiar with life in the South.            In spite of this fantasy world, the film works because the plot is compelling and the actors depict some very realistic characters—we all know people like those on the screen, and all we need to step into the story is a competent performance, which this cast delivers.            Boyish Zac Efron (“New Year’s Eve”) is Logan, the tormented hero.  His actions and reactions are thoroughly plausible, and his nobility of character, rather than being piously blatant, stealthily creeps along just below the surface, flaring briefly when he is faced with injustice, danger, or indecision.  He is thoroughly likable.            Taylor Schilling (TV’s “Mercy”) plays Beth, the girl afraid to embrace life because everything enjoyable has been taken from her.  She has her son, but the threat of his father taking her away looms over her like a shadow, dampening even that cherished relationship.  But when Logan makes her laugh, she radiates happiness—and that happiness becomes a narcotic that the audience needs to see, hopes to see, prays to see as the movie progresses.            Jay R. Ferguson (“The Killer Inside Me”) steals the show as Keith, Beth’s ex-husband.  It is rare to have an antagonist in a movie (especially a romance) that is this well-developed and well-rounded.  Mr. Ferguson’s face is a painter’s canvas of emotions: at times he is viciously predatory, sobbingly apologetic, paternally proud, shamefully brow-beaten, and always furtively fearful.  He is a tyrant, but we see the coward hovering behind the bravado.  His is a wonderful performance.            “The Lucky One” is a guilty pleasure.  It tugs mightily at the heartstrings, but you can’t help letting it win that little battle.  It is well-written and well-acted, and but for a heavy-handed director would be one of the best movies of the year.

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