The Lucky One (Scott Hicks/USA/101mins)
Zac Efron appears to be playing the ideal man in The Lucky One. He’s a politely moody, lightly brooding ex-Marine who oh-so earnestly values the lives of others. He walks across entire states just to thank a lady he’s never met. He reads highbrow literature (Moby Dick). He plays the piano beautifully. He can fix old tractors and boats, bathe old dogs and fix up old crumbling yet still picturesque lakeside mansions. He has thoughtful greeting-card-slogan tattoos (“All Glory Is Fleeting”). His eyes, muscles and, most likely, his very soul seem to gleam in the perfect Louisiana sunlight. I actually thought there might be a rug-pull twist near the end where it’s revealed that he’s actually playing Christ. Or some kind of ‘higher alien being’. Or, perhaps, a stalker (as inferred by one character late in the film). Of course he’s merely ‘perfect Zac-fron’: wounded war hero, loner and dab hand at looking mournfully chiseled. Was there even a question that single Southern belle Taylor Schilling wouldn’t consider nailing him in place when she first claps eyes on him?
She doesn’t because she has boring unresolved emotional issues. But you can see from the way she washes pots as if she’s masturbating, and can’t unglue her peepers from his arse at all times, that she’ll, by any god available, get him at banged some point soon. From the moment he leaves his tour of duty after finding a photo of Schilling (an act which inadvertently saves his life) to the moment he embeds himself in her life and, er, bed, it’s all a heated dash through run-of-the-mill wish-fulfilment fluff of the kind mechanically peddled in every Nicholas Sparks adaptation (see The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John). What sets it ever-so-slightly apart is the manner in which director Scott Hicks frames the story. He has a deft hand with frame composition that elevates any given instance of romantic sun-dappled cosiness. His direction often positions characters at unusual angles and distances within the film frame that effectively assist the cheese-baked narrative; it even helps usher events forward as efficiently as possible within the just-a-bit-too-long running time. The cinematography was the real standout, however: Alar Kivilo lights everything with a crisp beauty that doesn’t lean too heavily toward treacle or too longingly on the homely visual arrangements. All that golden, gleaming daylight is – rather surprisingly for a Sparks flick – held in check via Kivilo’s uncommonly spare work. I was impressed how handsome the film looked and how it restrained from too much schmaltzy over-indulgence.
As it goes, Efron plays it all in firm fashion, if a bit on the rigid side. He brightens when he plays chess with Schilling’s kid (he’s good at chess too!) or when he frolics with her dogs; but he darkens again when her cop ex-husband comes sniffing round looking for trouble. Efron’s two competing emotions are befitting a recently-traumatised marine, but perhaps more personality – like what he displayed in 17 Again – would’ve perked his character up a bit. Schilling does a lot of exasperated hand acting. Blythe Danner (as Schilling’s grandmother) does a lot of exasperated hair acting. Supporting characters come and go – all too fleeting to make much impact upon the plot or intrude upon the industrial-sized ‘crush zone’ built up by Efron and Schilling. But that’s precisely what many women and men go to a Sparks adaptation for. Hicks and his filmmaking team ensure this goes without nary a snag or an ugly shot in sight. They do just about a better job than anyone else previously. Not that this says much: the Sparks Insta-Romance (with Minor Breezy Complications) Plot Generator chugs along as per usual.