Logan (Zac Efron), a marine on tour in Iraq, discovers a photograph of an unknown woman in the aftermath of an explosion. The picture quickly becomes something of a guardian angel to Logan, protecting him from harm until he finds himself firmly back on home soil. Intent on paying his respects, he ventures to North Carolina with his beloved dog Zeus in tow. Upon arrival, he meets Beth (Taylor Schilling), the woman in question, but can’t find the words to share his story. He subsequently becomes her employee, which leads to rather dramatic consequences.
Thereon, the narrative plays out almost exactly like a by-the-numbers romantic drama, with screenwriter Will Fetters falling foul to most, if not all, of the typical contrivances and annoyances synonymous with the genre. It’s not solely Fetters fault, however, as The Lucky One is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, otherwise known as the master of schmaltz. That said, the fact that the film tries to do so much in such a short amount of time doesn’t lend Fetters any favours, with most of the angst and mystery that are likely to have kept the story arc ticking over in the novel lost in the adaptation.
It’s not all bad, though, as director Scott Hicks shows a natural flare for reflecting much of the unspoken feelings of characters and establishes mood through lighting, arrangement and shot choices. Much of the film is coated in a pleasantly affable natural light that does well to represent the slow-building love and sexual attraction between Logan and Beth, with the perspective only changing when tension mounts and something happens to disrupt the equilibrium, whether it be their salacious sexual encounters or the testy relationship between Beth and her commanding ex-husband (a miscast Jay R. Ferguson).
Thankfully, the predictability of the narrative doesn’t extend to the actors, who embody the often one-dimensional characters. Efron, in his first dramatic leading role, proves himself to be remarkably capable of delivering on a range of emotions, such as trepidation, loneliness and a thirst for redemption that will capture the audience’s attention more than the precarious narrative. Schilling and Blythe Danner as Beth’s live-in grandmother provide dependable support, with the key cast sharing satisfying chemistry that heightens their authenticity as human beings in their unpersuasive environment.
The fact that The Lucky One never sets itself up as something it isn’t is often what makes it so alluring, even in spite of its overwhelming shortcomings. With direction that tries hard to mute the all-conquering sentimentality and an able-bodied performance from Efron that further establishes him as an adept actor in need of more substantial material, Hicks has carved a competent film from the source material worth more appreciation than it suggests.