By now, renowned romance novelist Nicholas Sparks has played out just about every plotline imaginable to fit within the vanilla, boy-meets-girl confines of what he does best.
Seven of these crowd-pleasing stories have made their ways to the big screen, and “The Lucky One” is the latest to join the ranks.
Zac Efron is the swoon-worthy Logan Thibault, a Marine sergeant who has recently returned from his third tour in an active war zone in Iraq. He travels with a backpack, a loyal German Shepherd and a tattered picture of a beautiful woman who is a stranger to him. He discovered the photo while overseas and has held on to it ever since, though he has no idea who she is.
Logan wanders all the way from his home state of Colorado to the small town of Hamden, Louisiana, where he meets the unknown woman in the photo. Her name is Beth Green, played by Taylor Schilling, and she runs a dog kennel adjacent to the farmhouse where she lives with her grandmother Ellie, played by Blythe Danner, and her young son Ben, played by Riley Thomas Stewart.
Logan answers a help-wanted ad for the kennel, and before he knows it, he is employed by the woman he has wondered about for months. Beth’s recent divorce and trust issues hold her back from immediately warming up to the handsome, unassuming Logan, but, with a little push from Ellie, Beth begins to fall for Logan under the Louisiana stars in a match made in Hollywood heaven.
All would be well if it were not for Keith Clayton, played by Jay Ferguson, the local sheriff and emotionally abusive ex-husband of Beth. Keith throws his weight around in typical bad-guy fashion, making empty threats about taking full custody of their son and jealously stalking Logan when he and Beth become more than friends.
The truth about the photo soon comes out and Keith’s reaction tests the strength of the relationship between Logan, Beth and Ben. A whirlwind courtship leads to a laundry list of complications, and Beth must decide if Logan is worth the fight.
Efron has come a long way from the linoleum hallways of “High School Musical,” but his efforts to step out of the role he has been pigeonholed into are not wholly unsuccessful.
He plays the gentle, brooding Logan expertly but shows little more dimension than the wooden sign that advertises the dog kennel. He is shy in the shoes of a sexy, mysterious Marine and seems hesitant to play a leading man who has gone through more than just the stress of a high school chemistry test.
Schilling’s character soon transforms from a moody, doe-eyed single mom into a strong woman who learns to love again with the help of Logan’s good intentions. She is certainly no femme fatale nor a star on the rise, but she works well with Efron as one half of an unlikely romantic duo. She spends most of the film either scrutinizing Efron or giving him puppy eyes, so one can hope she’ll step it up in future acting ventures.
Danner’s talents are underused here as the kindly grandmother who offers occasional comedic relief and words of wisdom as needed. Stewart is an adorable, wise-beyond-his-years young boy who adds just the right dose of sentiment to a film already saturated with sweetness.
At times, “The Lucky One” seems to rush forward at breakneck speed in a sloppy attempt to explain its plot points, but for the most part, it paints a pleasing picture that any diehard romantic can appreciate, despite its predictability.
“The Lucky One” is exactly what audiences can expect from Sparks and the gang: It’s nice to look at, pulls at every available heartstring and ensures that once the lights go up in the theater, every female will be looking at her significant other with a judgmental, dissatisfied eye.