Director Scott Hicks pours enough syrup over this film to supply an IHOP. Every shot of the golden sunlight on the Louisiana bayou or the perfectly tousled angelic curls of the perfectly precocious angelic boy or the perfect smile of the beautiful kennel owner and substitute teacher played by Taylor Schilling or the perfect muscles of the beautiful former Marine who seems to be channeling “as you wish” Westley from “The Princess Bride” all but drips with syrupy sweetness. Then there is the aural candy of the many pop songs on the soundtrack. This is outdone by the storyline, which matches the sugar content of the visuals with a synthetic and coincidence-heavy plot. But that doesn’t mean it it not a pleasant movie-watching experience in a greeting card commercial sort of way.
It helps that Zac Efron and Schilling are talented and attractive performers with good chemistry. Efron plays Logan, a Marine on his third tour who finds a picture of a beautiful girl half-buried in the sand. It becomes his lucky talisman. When he finds himself back at home, not sure who he is or where he belongs without his team and traumatized by loss, he decides to find the girl in the picture and thank her. He walks from Colorado to Louisiana with his dog, Zeus. Instead of telling her why he is there, he ends up working for her, helping to care for the dogs and also looking very handsome as he lifts things and fixes things. Schilling is Beth, who lives with her grandmother (Blythe Danner) and her 7-year-old son Ben (Riley Thomas Stewart), a violinist and chess whiz. Beth’s ex-husband Keith (Jay R. Ferguson) is a bully of a cop who is volatile, possessive, and jealous. As Logan and Beth are more drawn to one another, Keith threatens to sue for custody of Ben to keep him away from them.
“The questions are complicated but the answers are simple,” Logan says when Beth challenges him to quote his favorite philosopher. “Voltaire?” she asks. “Dr. Seuss,” he answers. Logan, who has accepted a job cleaning up after dogs because it is “peaceful” may understand that simple does not mean superficial better than Nicholas Sparks, author of the book and director Hicks, who seem determined to keep things safely formulaic.
Parents should know that this film has battle scenes, some shoving matches, a gun, a child in peril, the sad death of a parent, drinking (characters get tipsy), non-explicit sexual situations, and some strong language (s-words).
Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Logan to tell Beth the truth? What do you think about the question Logan and Beth discussed at the bar?
If you like this, try: “The Notebook,” “The Lake House,” and “The Vow”