Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

11 November 2012

Nicholas Sparks & Zac Efron


I have, until last night, been able completely to avoid films based on Nicholas Sparks novels. This has become a miniature point of pride for me. Girls I know look at me aghast. You haven't seen The Notebook??? they yell, indignant. How is it possible that you haven't seen The Notebook? Well, I haven't. I have also skipped Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe, A Walk to Remember, The Last Song, and Dear John. I say No Thanks to Mr. Sparks' particular brand of heteronormative schmaltz and his refusal to call the books he writes "romance novels". Mr. Sparks writes what he calls "fiction", and we are allegedly fools for placing his work within so debased a genre as the romance novel, even though his books are just as formulaic as Jackie Collins'. In a much-quoted and ludicrous interview in USA Today he compared himself to Shakespeare, Austen, and Hemingway, and then called Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian "the most pulpy, overwrought, melodramatic cowboy vs. Indians story ever written".

Okay.

On the other hand...

I like Zac Efron. There. I said it. And I try to see all of his movies. Now, I mostly think these movies are awful, but I always like Zac in them. There is something unapologetically earnest about his work, the way he truly works at his acting without ever phoning it in (like, say, Orlando Bloom or Ashton Kutcher sometimes do). Aside from all this, I honestly think Zac is pretty good. He gets at something – a kind of bro-truth, perhaps – for which I think our society often aims. So far I've been charmed by Zac in High School Musical (1, 2 and 3), found him adorable in Hairspray, thought he acquitted himself well in Me and Orson Welles, and watched both of his Burr Steers movies (17 Again was cute and clever; Charlie St. Cloud was absurd and overly sentimental). I admit that I probably shouldn't have seen Charlie St. Cloud in the theatre, but, well, Zac is just so pretty. I know that's not really an excuse but it's all I've got. The boy is not my type at all, but he's beautiful.

Which leads me to the point where I rent The Lucky One, the new film by Scott Hicks (who you might remember made the Oscar-nominated Shine in 1996), which stars Zac Efron and is based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks.

And it is every single thing you think it is going to be. The Lucky One is exhaustingly formulaic, unabashedly heteronormative, filled with inane dialogue, excruciatingly white, and cloyingly sentimental.

And I sort of liked it. Zac is very good, as usual. The beautiful female lead, Taylor Schilling, is actually delightful and gives a fine performance. There's also Blythe Danner, who wears a knowing, clever smirk throughout the whole film. The actors are honestly doing good work.

That's all I can say for The Lucky One, though. The movie wants you to have feeling after feeling, and for some reason, it treats its audience as though we haven't seen this movie before. The Lucky One is a rehash of every romantic drama you've ever seen that behaves as though it's telling this story for the very first time.

True love. Meant to be. Fate. Blah blah blah. And mostly I just sat there, drank my gin and tonic, and bought it.