The Sparks Swindle and The Sparks Formula.
Nicolas Sparks… oh, Nicholas Sparks. He is perhaps one of the most puzzling contemporary American writers. His writing is trite, with one dimensional characters and contrived plotlines. He is, in essence, the poor man’s James Patterson, with each of his novels and the film adaptations of those novels failing to reach the level of emotional clarity found in James Patterson’s Sam’s Letters to Jennifer. However, despite all of this, his novels and their on-screen adaptations never fail to please the masses, usually earning Rotten Tomatoes scores in the mid seventies and eighties. This is what I like to refer to as The Sparks Swindle, the inexplicable quality of his writing that compels one to relinquish hours of ones life to watching and/or reading his work. I myself have fallen victim to it, curled in a ball crying while watching A Walk to Remember (2002), later wondering how I’d managed to consume 1 pint of ice cream during the film. The Sparks Swindle is powerful – it’s a force that deserves respect. It is what drew me to the Harvard Square Theater, in the middle of the day, to see The Lucky One (2012).
The Lucky One is a film adaptation of a Nicholas Spark’s novel of the same name, about a marine, Sgt. Logan Thibault (Zac Efron), who attributes his survival in Iraq to a chance discovery of a woman’s photograph, misplaced by another Marine and found amongst some rubble. After a slew of near-death experiences and inexplicable escapes, Logan becomes obsessed with this good luck charm. When returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq, he is fixated on the photograph (and the woman in it) that he credits with keeping him alive. Driven by this obsession, he walks to Louisiana from Colorado (Yes, walks. Cue the eye rolling) to find the woman in the picture. He is able to locate her in a small, seemingly backwater town, learns her name – Beth (Taylor Schilling) – and where she lives. He shows up at her door and ends up taking a job at her family-run local dog kennel. Despite her initial mistrust and the complications in her life, a romance develops between them, giving Logan hope that Beth could be much more than his good luck charm. The Lucky One follows the usual Nicholas Sparks pattern, to be outlined shortly, and as usual, deals in improbabilities.
Warning, spoilers ahead!
Logan manages to find Beth despite the numerous obstacles working against him. One example of this is that the photo was found with no name or location and he managed to locate the town using a lighthouse in the background as a marker… and then walk there. The Nicholas Sparks formula is this: Boy develops crush on girl. Girl resists boy. Drama ensues. Finally, girl reciprocates feelings. Someone dies. The end. This plays out in The Lucky One, as Logan likes Beth; Beth ignores Logan. Beth has a heated custody battle with her ex. She finally reciprocates Logan’s feelings. Beth’s ex dies. The end.
This is the Sparks formula. Let me give you another example: A Walk to Remember. If you haven’t seen A Walk to Remember, ignore this section. Landon likes Jamie. Jamie hates Landon. She reveals she has cancer. Their romance finally blossoms. She dies. The end.
Yet another example: The Notebook (2004). Noah likes Allie. Allie resists Noah. They try to get together but are prevented by Allie’s parents and a combination of him going to war, her going to college, and her getting engaged. Eventually they marry. She gets Alzheimer’s. They both die. The end.
The Last Song (2010) is another example of the Sparks formula in practice (with the extra bonus of Miley Cyrus), but do I really need to explain further? As a seasoned Nicholas Sparks reader (and viewer), I knew what to expect going into The Lucky One. I received only two tiny pleasures from this film; the first was seeing the lovely and talented Blythe Danner once again on-screen. The second was checking the film’s rating online at Rotten Tomatoes to find that the folks over there have finally wised up to The Sparks Swindle. I was utterly titillated to read the critical consensus stating, “While it provides the requisite amount of escapist melodrama, The Lucky One ultimately relies on too many schmaltzy clichés to appeal to anyone not already familiar with the Nicholas Sparks formula”. Unless you are looking for a stale, formulaic film, don’t waste your money on The Lucky One.
Whitney Lee ’14 (whitneylee@college) hopes to never see another Nicholas Sparks film.