Let me just be perfectly clear from the start: I am no fan of Nicholas Sparks’s treacly romance novels or the many cringe- and eye roll-inducing movies based upon them. They are as base and formulaic as possible – and yet they continue to make money and attract legions of (mostly female) fans who I assume view them through the lens of modern fairy tales. Never mind that the women in these stories tend to be about as complex and interesting as the cardboard cutout of Sarah Palin at her latest Barnes & Noble book signing . . .
So, having said that, the only way I can be fair to the movie is to say that if you’ve enjoyed movies like The Notebook and Nights in Rodanthe (hiss, spit, and groooooaaaan!), you probably won’t mind the fact that this implausible modern love story is replete with every romantic cliché and the inevitable message that, no matter what, Love wins over all. Cue the violins, intense onscreen kiss, and final credits.
Here’s the basic plot: an US Marine named Logan (Zac Efron) is in combat when he sees a random picture on the ground in front of him. He walks over to pick it up when an explosion goes off behind him. He’s been saved by the picture, a picture of a pretty girl back in the States whose name and identity he doesn’t know. He vows to find her when he gets back, and through the miracle of Hollywood coincidences, he does.
The girl is named Beth (Taylor Schilling) who runs a dog kennel. She’s married to a jerk of a deputy sheriff named Keith (Jay R. Ferguson) who is an insufferable brute. Logan is sensitive to her needs and even though it takes a while for her to notice (she’s a mom, too, by the way) eventually she is won over by Logan’s loverboy ways.
The one saving grace in the movie is Ellie, Beth’s “nana” played by the always-dependable Blythe Danner. She lends the movie its only few fleeting moments of emotional credibility, playing the sole character that seems to belong to the real world. Efron and Schilling play their parts well enough given the material they have to work with, but in the end they seem to be operating in an alternate universe encased within a Thomas Kinkade painting. We might wish that such stories were true, but even the romantic in us knows much, much better.