Nicolas Sparks is to romance writing what Buckley’s cough syrup is to a tickly throat. They both get the job done, but leave a sickly sweet aftertaste.
“The Lucky One” sees Zac Efron play Logan, a Marine with three tours of duty in Iraq under his belt. After one deadly night raid in which several Marines are killed, he finds a photo of a beautiful woman with the words “Stay safe” written on the back. The mystery woman becomes his guardian angel when a bomb explodes seconds after he picked up the picture. If he hadn’t left his post to retrieve the photo he would have been killed. He tries in vain to find the owner of the photo and when he is transferred stateside his search takes him to North Carolina and Beth (Taylor Schilling), the girl in the photo.
Sparks-isms abound in “The Lucky One.” The pen behind stories like “Dear John” and “Nights in Rodanthe” gives us characters with soap opera names like Drake and Logan, people who say things like, “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute,” and lovers making out in a shower. Unfortunately there isn’t anything here nearly as memorable as “The Notebook’s” lake full of swans scene. Instead we’re given a collection of starry-eyed Sparksian banalities strung together in place of a story.
The story, such that it is, is so slight, so predictable that it has to be fleshed out with musical montages and scenes that don’t forward the story, but simply reinforce what we already know about the characters. We get it, Logan is troubled, but he likes dogs, reads philosophy and plays piano, so he can’t be a bad guy.
That’s as deep as the character study gets in this romance. The characters are black and white—there are no shades of grey. The good people are pure and virtuous; the bad people are corrupt and mean.
If watching good looking people fall in love is enough for you—and that’s OK—then spend your money on “The Lucky One.” But I couldn’t help but think that Efron, when he says to Beth, “I know you deserve better than this,” was actually speaking to the audience.
The word romance conjures up different ideas for different people. Some folks, when they muse about love, create pictures of Fabio locked in an embrace with a raven-haired beauty in their mind’s eye. Others imagine John Cusack, boom-box raised above his head, lurking outside his beloved’s bedroom window.
When Nicholas Sparks thinks about amour, however, I imagine dollar signs come to mind. He is the premier romance writer of his generation, single handedly giving Harlequin a run in the tearjerker department. Who else could write a line like, “Love is like the wind, you can’t see it but you can feel it,” with a straight face?
The flowery pen behind novels and screenplays like The Notebook, Dear John and Nights in Rodanthe returns with this weekend’s parcel of passion, The Lucky One, a story of good luck charms and true love.
He writes tales of love and loss, of mighty obstacles overcome and lip-locks galore, which he defines as “dramatic epic love stories” along the lines of “Eric Segal’s Love Story or The Bridges of Madison County… But you can even go all the way back. You had Hemingway write A Farewell to Arms, the movies of the forties—Casablanca, From Here to Eternity—Shakespeare, and that’s the genre I work in.”
He caught some flack for comparing himself to Shakespeare—one writer said, “If Sparks is like Shakespeare, then a housepainter is like Picasso.”—but the fact remains that his unconventional love stories have made his name synonymous with the romance genre.
Sitting at the top of the list is The Notebook, which made stars of Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gostling. Marie Claire magazine says, “this movie is packed with heart-flutteringly incredible loves scenes… that it’s impossible to choose just one,” but Noah and Alley’s boat ride on the lake surrounded by swans is generally considered to be the most memorable moment in a movie that is essentially just one long love scene.
Peter Travers called Message in a Bottle “a hazard to all those allergic to ponderous chick flicks,” but the movie features great romantic chemistry between Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and a scene stealing performance from Paul Newman.
Even Miley Cyrus has been Sparksified. She chose the author to pen The Last Song, her fist post Hannah Montana movie, because she was a huge fan of his other weepie A Walk to Remember.